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  Refugee Protection

 Update on Bedouin in the Naqab

 On 2 April the ILA sprayed crops belonging to the villages of Umm Batin, east of Omer; al-Mekiman, south of Laqiyya; A’ojan, west of Laqiyya; A’araqeeb, south of Rahat; and Sa’wa and Umm Heran, both east of Hura. The total amount of land sprayed with toxic chemicals was 2,000 dunums. 
 A plan to remove the Beoduin from their lands was inserted into the government’s “Emergency Economic Plan.” Some 56 million NIS are budgeted for the implementation of a transfer program called “The Removal of the Intruders Law.” The program will create a military and judicial system to expedite the transfer of 70,000 Bedouins from ‘unrecognized villages’ into 7 ‘legal’ settlements. According to the Mossawa Center, some 12.5 million NIS will go to the Green Patrol (an environmental paramilitary group), 15.5 million NIS for the creation of a new police unit, and part of the 27 million to the ILA will go towards airplanes most likely to monitor Bedouin development and agriculture. (Mossawa Center, 4 April 2003)

On 9 April, the government passed a plan for concentration of the Bedouin into seven towns.
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Report, Committee on Economic and Cultural Rights, 30th Session, May 2003
From the Committee’s Concluding Observations:
“Excessive Emphasis upon the State as a ‘Jewish State’ Encourages Discrimination”

On May 15 – 16, the Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights reviewed Israel’s second periodic report as well as parallel information submitted by numerous Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs. The Committee’s Concluding Observations issued on 23 May include analysis and recommendations highly critical of Israel’s ‘excessive emphasis’ on the state as a ‘Jewish state,’ which was identified as a major source of widespread discrimination against the state’s non-Jewish population. These Concluding Observations, which re-affirm and strengthen the position that institutions and laws of the ‘Jewish state’ are not in line with Israel’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are significant and timely, especially in light of the fact that the Israeli government has launched an unprecedented campaign for assurances by all parties of the Quartet that implementation of the Middle East ‘Road Map’ will include recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State.’

Paragraph 16:
“The Committee is deeply concerned about the continuing difference in treatment between Jews and non-Jews, in particular Arab and Bedouin communities, with regard to their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the State party’s territory. The Committee reiterates its concern that the “excessive emphasis upon the state as a ‘Jewish State’ encourages discrimination and accords a second-class status to its non-Jewish citizens (1998 Concluding Observations, paragraph 10).”
Paragraph 18:
“The Committee is particularly concerned about the status of ‘Jewish Nationality’ which is a ground for exclusive preferential treatment for persons of Jewish nationality under the Israeli Law of Return, granting them automatic citizenship and financial government benefits, thus resulting in practice in discriminatory treatment against non-Jews, in particular Palestinian refugees. The Committee is also concerned about the practice of restrictive family reunification with regard to Palestinians, which has been adopted for reasons of national security. […]”
Paragraph 34:
“The Committee reiterates its recommendation contained in paragraph 36 of its 1998 concluding observations that, in order to ensure equality of treatment and non-discrimination, the State party undertake a review of its re-entry and family reunification policies for Palestinians.”
Paragraph 43:
“The Committee further urges the State party to recognize all existing Bedouin villages, their property rights and their right to basic services, in particular water, and to desist from the destruction and damaging of agricultural crops and fields, including in unrecognized villages. The Committee further encourages the State party to adopt and adequate compensation scheme that is open to redress for Bedouin who have agreed to resettle in ‘townships’ […]”
(From: Concluding Observations by the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, 30th session, 23 May 2003 – emphasis added - available at:

The current Israeli quest for international legitimacy and support for the ‘Jewish character of the state’ is aimed at avoiding future challenges of its 55-years old system of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens and implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. It must be challenged based on the 2003 findings of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

The Geneva Session: Israeli Positions vs. the NGO Community
Throughout the 30th session in Geneva, which coincided with the 55th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (15 – 16 May), Israel’s official delegation continued to uphold that Israel was not accountable for the situation of the economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian population in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories. This because, it was argued, ‘the latter are located outside the area of Israeli sovereignty and jurisdiction.’ Israel did, however, recognize its obligation to cater for the social, economic and cultural rights of the Jewish settlers living in the same territory. The Israeli delegation moreover argued that international human rights law, including the ICESCR, was not applicable in the 1967 OPT where the situation of armed conflict is ruled by the standards set by international humanitarian law. In line with these arguments, Israel abstained from reporting about the situation of the Covenant- protected rights of the Palestinian people in the 1967 OPT also in its second periodic report to the Committee.

With regard to the area inside the ‘Green Line,’ Israel’s delegation produced a contradictory stream of denials that portrayed only progress in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by all.

Twenty-four Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, among them BADIL, presented formal testimony to the Committee on related human rights conditions in Israel and the 1967 OPT. The broad base of evidence demonstrated a seamless continuity of deprivation that Israel has carried out over time and territory against Palestinian refugees, the million Palestinian Arab citizens and the more than three million Palestinian residents under its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs urged the Committee to strengthen its 1998 Concluding Observations, to identify Israel’s ongoing human rights violations as ‘breaches’ of its ICESCR obligations, to renew its call upon the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), first raised in 2001, to step in and provide urgently need resources and mechanisms for rights enforcement, and to renew the request to Israel for additional information about the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in the 1967 OPT.

While the Committee reiterated its previous position that Israel is obliged to guarantee ICESCR protected rights in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (paragraph 31), its 2003 Concluding Observations are disappointing in numerous aspects. Committee members largely sufficed with re-iterating their 1998 Concluding Observations and issued a position, which apparently reflects their lowest-possible common denominator at the expense of human rights principles. The Committee, moreover, exempted Israel from all additional reporting requirements on its ICESCR obligations until 30 June 2008, when Israel’s third periodic report will be due. A series of follow-up options and lobbying strategies were identified by the NGOs present in Geneva, in order to ensure that Israel’s violations of the social, economic and cultural rights of the Palestinian people will remain challenged, irrespective of the disappointing results of the Committees 2003 session.

Beer Sheba: The Forgotten Half of Palestine
When Napoleon ventured into the Arab East in 1799, with dreams of establishing the Eastern Empire, he broke the absence of European intrusion into Arab lands, which lasted 600 years after the Crusades. He left a legacy of a failing military campaign and a successful scientific expedition. His seventy-nine savants left us the encyclopedic “La Description de l’Egypte” which included a detailed description of Arab clans all the way from Cairo to Damascus.

BADIL Reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 30 session, Geneva, May 2003:
Follow-up Information Regarding CESCR’s 1998 and 2001 Concluding Observations on Israel’s Serious Breaches of the ICESCR-Protected Rights of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, prepared by Kara Krolikowski and Susan Akram, Boston University School of Law and BADIL Resource Center. This submission is published at:
Shadow Report regarding the Report of Israeli concerning the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, prepared by 12 Palestinian NGOs, among them BADIL, and coordinated by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights (PICCR). The full report as well as a short summary are published on the PICCR website:

When he crossed Sinai and advanced into Palestine in February 1801, he and his troops were amazed to encounter the wintery climate and the green landscape of Palestine, “like France” as his haggard soldiers observed. His savants and ‘Syrian’ dragomen – mostly Syrian Christians who spoke Arabic and foreign languages- left us a list of clans in southern Palestine, their number, their homelands and the number of their cavalry (fursan. singular: faris).

This is probably the first modern European record of the inhabitants of Beer Sheba and Gaza, which was then called Gaza Country (Bilad Ghazzeh), Gaza being the capital of the southern half of Palestine.

A historical quirk could have changed the history of Europe, not only the Middle East. Napoleon and his entourage were separated from the army which was lagging behind, contrary to common practice. Napoleon was cut off near Khan Younis. Tarabin cavalry were poised to attack him, when their scouts spied ‘thousands’ of French soldiers in their tricoloured uniforms near Rafah. They retreated just in time. If Napoleon was killed or captured, and this was easy, what would the history of Europe look like?

The eighteenth century in Palestine was invariably recorded by European travellers, priests, spies, soldiers and also by Syrian and Egyptian historians of the time. The word ‘Syrian’ meant Bilad al Sham, which is Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and modern Syria.

This Palestine was ruled effectively by its people; the authority of the Sultan’s mutassarref was confined to main cities, aided by a small garrison. This was no more true than in Beer Sheba. Clans had almost complete independence to rule their territory and dispose of their affairs. They had their ‘armies’. They were never conscripted, but they would acquiesce to the Sultan’s wishes, if so pursuaded, to put forward a ‘regiment’ to aid the war effort. They would go and return as an independent unit. That was the case when in 1914/1915 they sent 1500 cavalry to fight the British at the Suez Canal.

But they had their own internal wars as well. It was almost always about the territory of their homelands. Well before the Ottoman land law of 1858, trespassing on another clan’s property was a valid reason for a ‘war’ which could last for 20 years. As was customary in Palestine, land boundaries were well marked by a wadi, road, distinctive trees or a cairn and known to everybody.

Within the tribal land, everyone knew the limits of his own property. All suitable lands were cultivated. This kind of cultivation depended on the rainfall. For the north and north west of Beer Sheba town, rainfall exceeded 300 mm/year and was suitable for growing wheat in winter and summer crops like maize and water melon in summer. All the area from Majdal in the north to Wadi Ghazzeh in the south grew wheat. The reverend W. M. Thompson who visited the area in April 1856 wrote in his famous book “The Land and the Book”, when he scanned the horizon, “wheat, wheat, an ocean of wheat”. Just before the First World War, Gaza port was crowded with vessels carrying wheat for export. Beer Sheba was truly the bread basket of Palestine.

The head of the British Geological mission to Palestine, Hull, observed in 1883 when he visited the area, “The extent of the ground here [near Beer Sheba] cultivated, as well as on the way to Gaza, is immense and the crops of wheat, barley and maize vastly exceed the requirements of the population”. He thought the territory looks like southern Italy.

In 1863, Victor Guerin, the French scholar who wrote volumes and drew maps of all Palestine, observed the land ownership of each clan. On crossing the territory, he was challenged by each clan upon entering their land.

But it was not until late 19th century and early twentieth when serious scholars and professional spies mapped and recorded the territory in great detail. We have the voluminous work of the Austrian-Czech scholar, Alois Musil, unofficially the spy for the Hapsburg Empire, who documented the names, numbers and the lands for all clans, including those in Sinai, Syria and Hejaz. Not to be outdone, the Germans sent their spy, a.k.a. scholar, Baron Max von Oppenheim to do the same. The French sent their local spy, who lived in Jerusalem, Father Jaussen of l’Ecole Biblique, to do the same. All these European spies were vying for a piece of the Ottoman cake. Anxiously waiting for the demise of the ‘sick man’, the Turkish Empire, they were staking out the territory for the promised day.

It is ironic that the late comers were the winners. The British, who were stationed in Egypt since 1882, only lately surveyed the ‘Negev’ (a word foreign to the Arabs, meaning south). The British officer- surveyor, Newcombe, a man who rose to prominence in delimitation of the boundary between Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, produced an excellent map of ‘Negev’ in 1914, which was the main source of information for Allenby in his Campaign into Palestine in 1917. The famous Lawrence of Arabia, made a fleeting visit to Beer Sheba in 1914 disguised as –what else- an archeologist, and wrote a report on it, under the title of “Wilderness of Zin”.

We cannot fail to mention the huge documentary work in 26 maps and 10 volumes of Palestine Exploration Fund, which started in 1871 and lasted 8 years, 4 years in the field and 4 years of writing in London. But the survey covered only one third of Beer Sheba district. It stopped at Wadi Ghazzeh in the south.

We mention all these records to dispel the myth created by the Zionists to justify the confiscation of Beer Sheba on the pretext that this land has no owners and that it is barren , fit only for the Zionists to develop. It is as if the whole of Palestine belonged to the Jewish European immigrants as a matter of right, unless and until the natural and historical owners of the land prove, not to a court of law, but to these immigrants, that their land truly belongs to them.

The Mandate Period

Beer Sheba District is the largest district of Palestine, at 12,577,000 d., or 62% of Israel which occupied 78% of Palestine in 1948. Yet, it is the least understood and most misrepresented. The southern half of the district, south of 31◦ N, has rainfall of less than 100 mm/year, hence sustained agriculture is minimal. Apart from grazing, this southern half is rich in minerals and archeological sites dating back to the fourth century A.D. The northern half is fertile. It is where 95% of population used to live and cultivate their land extensively. Only 5% live on grazing. The population of Beer Sheba district now is about 700,000.

The British Mandate government listed 77 official clans (ashiras) grouped into 7 major Tribes, in addition to Beer Sheba town and about a dozen police stations. The major Tribes are listed in the Table. Their land and rainfall in addition to their population in 1998 are also shown. 


By order of rainfall
Population in 1998
Of which:
Remaining in Israel
Tribal Land
Cultivated Area
Wheat/ Barley
% Cultivated
Rain over 300mm/yr
Rain 300-200
Rain 200-100
Rain less 100