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Israeli authorities turn away thousands waiting to register for Negev land

Feb. 28, 2017 7:17 P.M. (Updated: March 1, 2017 10:05 P.M.)
NEGEV (Ma'an) -- Thousands crowded into Israel’s Bedouin Development Authority office in Beersheba to register to buy land in a new neighborhood in the nearby town of Rahat on Tuesday morning, only to be turned away and find that the registration was cancelled.

The incident came as the latest development in a severe housing crisis that has seen scores of homes razed to the ground in unrecognized Bedouin communities in Israel’s Negev region, as the Israeli state seeks to transfer them to government-zoned townships in order to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli housing on the evacuated Bedouin land.

The Israeli government has plans to evacuate tens of thousands of Bedouin residents to officially recognized Bedouin townships, one of which is Rahat.

Thousands had been waiting outside the office since the early predawn hours to register to buy land in the new area of Rahat, known as Compound 6.

"This is fiasco for the Rahat municipality, who completely failed to take the slightest interest in the registration process," a local resident who was waiting for registration told Ma'an.

"They should have shown some respect to the residents and brought the registration officers to the building. Instead, all municipality officials are sitting in their offices watching how we fight for a residence."

However, Israeli news site Arab48 reported that registration was called off for a week due to the high numbers of residents that arrived to register. The number of applicants was estimated to be around 4,000 young couples.

Arab48 quoted head of the Rahat municipality Talal al-Qreinawi as saying that the first phase of registration for Compound 6 would be for 900 applications and some 455 applications for the second phase.

The ongoing attempts at transferring the Bedouins originated from the Prawer Report, a document outlining expulsion plans for the unrecognized Bedouin community. It was officially adopted by the Israeli government in 2013.

According to Israeli human rights group Adalah, the plan would “result in the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognized’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Negev.”

Bedouin communities in the Negev have been the target of a heightened demolition campaign in recent weeks, following Israeli leaders publicly expressing their commitment to demolish Palestinian structures lacking difficult to obtain Israeli-issued building permits across Israel and occupied East Jerusalem in response to the Israeli-court sanctioned evacuation of the illegal Amona settler outpost.

A raid to demolished homes in the unrecognized Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran last month left two people killed, including a local math teacher, sparking widespread outrage among Bedouins and the wider Palestinian community.

A group of Bedouin reservist soldiers recently announced that they would refuse to report for duty, citing “betrayal” by the Israeli state and a wider cultural of racial discrimination.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages.

While Bedouins of the Negev are Israeli citizens, rights groups have claimed that the demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages is a central Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli communities.

The classification of their villages as “unrecognized” prevents Bedouins from developing or expanding their communities, as their villages are considered illegal by Israeli authorities.

Israeli authorities have also refused to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages to the national water and electricity grids, while excluding the communities from access to health and educational services, and basic infrastructure.

Many of the Bedouins were forcibly transferred to the village sites during the 17-year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel's military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.

Now more than 60 years later, the villages have yet to be recognized by Israel and live under constant threats of demolition and forcible removal.
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