What’s next for Bedouin in a post-Prawer Israel?

The cancellation of the Prawer Plan is a victory for committed protestors. But how did this happen, and what does it mean for the Bedouin living in unrecognized villages who will wake up to a new reality?

The “Stop Prawer Plan” campaigners can take this evening off and celebrate their enormous success in halting the Prawer Plan. Up until two weeks ago, all bets were on a lengthy struggle: a bill that would pass in the Knesset, followed by a long and complicated appeals process to the High Court of Justice, with a simultaneous escalation in violent confrontations between new police forces (mandated by the plan) and the Bedouin residents in the Negev’s unrecognized villages.

But the tide turned two weeks ago as clashes between demonstrators and police in Hura and Haifa rattled the country. The blind eye turned by the Israeli media to Prawer and the resistance to it on the ground (as long as that resistance was peaceful) was torn asunder after stones and rubber bullets began flying. Suddenly, everybody was talking about the Bedouin and house demolitions.

What's next for Bedouin in a post-Prawer Israel?
Demonstrators run away from a police water canon track during a “day of rage” protest against the Prawer-Begin Plan, Haifa, Israel, November 30, 2013. Around 1,000 demonstrators participated in the demonstration. Police used horses, water canons and shock grenades to disperse the demonstrators. Around 20 protesters were arrested and several injured. (photo: Mareike Lauken/Activestills.org)

Reactions to the “day of rage” took place on several levels: on the ground, police used excessive violence, while the courts have repeatedly prolonged the detention of anti-Prawer demonstrators in ways that can only be described as a state of emergency (13 of them are still behind bars). Activism on the ground encouraged the opposition in Knesset to be more assertive, to demand answers about the proposed bill and warn of the dangers that may await the country if it was to go forward as planned. While government officials were trying to portray the protests as marginal, claiming that the vast majority of the Bedouin support the plan, one of its primary promoters—Minister Benny Begin—was forced earlier in the week to admit that he had never really shown the plan in detail to Bedouin, and thus could not have obtained their support. This enlarged the already existing rift within the right wing, as Liberman, Bennett and parts of the Likud rushed to attack the plan for allocating too much land to the Bedouin. Attacked on all sides, the government was eventually forced to scrap the plan altogether.

But what does all this mean for the tens of thousands of Bedouin living in unrecognized villages in the Negev, without basic infrastructure and in constant fear of demolitions? Broadly speaking there are three possible outcomes to the end of Prawer. First, and in my mind most likely, the government may completely retreat from its visions of “cleansing” the Negev and settle for a continuation of the current state of affairs (with a possibility of yet another committee that could take years to reach any kind of decision). This is definitely better for Bedouin than the Prawer Plan itself, but it still means a life of poverty and fear, demolition orders, court appeals and the occasional destruction of homes—as is the case in Al-Araqib and now Umm al-Hiran.

The second option is that the hawks in power, rather than the Bedouin and leftists, will take credit for scrapping Prawer, and will try to push forward a new, more radical plan of uprooting with little or no compensation. However, such an initiative might be harder to promote among the more pragmatic people in the government, and would be much harder to explain to the High Court (which would already be aware of concessions made as part of Prawer). One can even imagine the media, now awake to the entire issue, being more critical of such a move.

The third and least likely option is for the government to start a process of dialogue with the Bedouin, review the plans made by local leaders and NGOs and consider recognizing villages and developing the Negev for all its inhabitants. While unrealistic under the current administration, this is what Bedouin and left-wing activists will continue fighting for. Maybe in the future it will not seem as absurd as it does now. After all, just two weeks ago no one would have believed Prawer would be scrapped.

What's next for Bedouin in a post-Prawer Israel?
Bedouins and other activists shout slogans during a protest against the Israeli government’s Prawer Plan, on road 31 near Hura, Israel, on November 30, 2013.

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