Bedouins, Israeli Arabs Protest Law Seizing Bedouin Lands in Negev

Several thousand Bedouins, joined by Israeli Arabs from Galilee, demonstrated outside the Knesset last night against government-sponsored legislation that would expedite the seizure of Bedouin lands in the Negev needed for the construction of two U.S. financed air bases. While inside the Knesset a compromise was reached between the coalition and the opposition Labor Alignment to postpone a Knesset vote pending certain changes in the proposed law, the demonstrators scuffled with police and Jewish militants who staged a counter-demonstration.

The lands involved cover some 40,000 acres east of Beersheba. The government-sponsored bill denies the Bedouins the right to appeal the confiscation in order to avoid prolonged legal procedures. It allows them the right to challenge the government’s compensation offer, however.

The government maintains that the right of appeal needs to be waived because construction of the air bases must begin immediately if they are to be completed within the three-year period stipulated in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The airfields will replace those in Sinai that Israel will yield when it withdraws from the peninsula.

Both the coalition and Labor MKs agreed that construction should begin as soon as possible, which means that the Bedouin lands must be expropriated without delay. But the Labor Alignment believes that the matter can be resolved without new legislation. The Bedouins chief concern apparently is denial of the right to appeal. They link the present situation to the controversial dispute over the other Bedouin lands in the Lagiya district which the government seized but has yet to explain the reasons why.

WILLING TO AMEND ASPECTS OF LAW

Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir met late yesterday afternoon with representatives of the Labor Alignment’s Knesset faction. Both parties agreed to begin negotiations over the principles upon which the new law is based. The Bedouins would be represented in those negotiations either by a mutually agreed to negotiating committee or through binding arbitration that would resolve the issue within a three-month time limit.

Tamir noted that the government would be willing to amend three aspects of the new law: it would delete the article stipulating that the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee could apply the law to other lands; it would include public figures in the negotiating committee and it would allow appeals against the legal aspects of the legislation as well as compensation.

According to Tamir’s proposal, the Knesset will vote on the law at a first reading, at which time the negotiating process will begin. If a solution is not reached within three months, the measure would come before the Knesset for second and third readings. This proposal is subject to approval by the Labor Alignment Knesset faction as a whole and by the ministerial legislation committee.

While these proposals were being discussed, the demonstrators outside the Knesset called for a halt to the “Judaization of our lands,” A spokesman for the Bedouins told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later that the proposed law is “racist, ethnic and cruel.” He noted that even in the occupied territories the residents have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court. ‘We as citizens are denied that right. We are refugees without the rights of refugees.”

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