Palestinian Bedouin IDPs, Ongoing Displacement and Land Rights
based on press reports by The Regional Council for the Palestinian Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) – Negev
On 3 March 2003, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which controls most of the land inside Israel (including land expropriated from Palestinian refugees), destroyed more than 2000 dunums (500 acres) of crops belonging to residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Abda located in the Naqab (Negev). Without prior warning, two airplanes belonging to ILA, accompanied by a large number of police forces and Green “Black” Patrol members, sprayed toxic chemicals on Bedouin houses, crops, and men, women, and children working in their fields.
Children exposed to the aerial spraying suffered shock and trauma. Many of the children, who had just received gas masks, believed that the war against Iraq had begun and that chemical weapons had been used against them. The children were immediately evacuated to the closest clinic at Mitzpeh Ramon (a Jewish locality). However, the doctor on duty at the clinic refused to admit them. The children were only admitted after the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages of the Palestinian Bedouin in the Negev (RCUV) contacted the Israeli Ministry of Health and Kupat Holim. The RCUV has subsequently sent an urgent letter to the Health Ministry requiring an official investigation in the matter.
Jaber Abu Kaff, the RCUV President who visited the children at the clinic said that spraying the crops with chemicals at Abda village was a barbarian, inhuman, and immorale act. He emphasized that the new Sharon government is proceeding with its plan to try to uproot the Bedouin from our fathers’ and grandfathers’ land. “But we will stay in our land as long as we are alive and we urge all those people with a conscience to stand with us.”
The destruction of the crops is another example of a consistent pattern of gross violations of the basic human right to property committed by the government of Israel against the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin community. This is the second time in a year that the ILA has used toxic chemicals to destroy Bedouin crops in the Naqab. In February 2003, officials from the Israeli Interior Ministry destroyed a mosque in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Tel al-Mileh based on claims that it was an unlicensed building. At the beginning of the year, the Israeli government revealed the budget (US$ 1.75 billion) and timeframe (5 years) for a plan to remove the remaining indigenous Palestinian Bedouin living in unrecognized villages from their land and concentrate them into three townships.
The plan includes funds to restart a legal process, suspended in 1976, to settle all outstanding land claims. No Bedouin has ever won a land claim to any of the more than 3,000 lawsuits filed over the past several decades. It also includes funds for land confiscation, destruction of Bedouin cropland claimed by the government as ‘state land’, and the destruction of unlicensed buildings. (For details on the plan see RCUV Press Release 22/1/03). The Israeli government is also planning to construct 14 new Jewish colonies on land belonging to the Bedouin in order to increase the size of the Jewish population living in the Naqab.
The indigenous Palestinian Bedouin inhabitants of the Naqab have been subjected to more than five decades of expulsion, internal transfer, land confiscation, and a policy of forced sedentarization. The Bedouin comprised approximately 13 percent of the total Palestinian refugee population in 1948. Today there are an estimated 650,000 Bedouin refugees (including their descendants) who were initially displaced in 1948. Many live in so-called unrecognized villages inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. Unrecognized villages do not receive any government services. A durable solution for Palestinian refugees must also permit Bedouin refugees and newly internally displaced Bedouins to return to their homes of origin and repossess their properties.
Also see the historical map on Beer Sheba 1948 prepared by the Palestine Land Society in Resources on Refugees in this issue.