Legal Encounter Addresses Prawer Plan

Birzeit University Institute of Law organized a legal encounter on December 9, 2013 about the Prawer Plan, a plan to relocate Bedouin living in the Negev.


Opening the event, institute researcher Reem al-Butmeh described how the Prawer Plan poses imminent danger to Palestinians, adversely affecting Palestinian identity and facilitating Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land claims. Ms. Butmeh said that the issue should be of particular interest to law, media and political science students.


Presentations were given by youth activists, members of the “Prawer Won’t Pass Campaign,” and a law expert from the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah).


Ali Mawasi, a youth activist and member of the Prawer Won’t Pass Campaign, highlighted the role of the youth movement in confronting Israel’s Judaization of the Negev desert. Overviewing the history of Bedouin presence in the area, Mawasi said that the Negev measures almost half of all of historic Palestine. It was inhabited by 95 Bedouin tribes, who built close relationships with Bedouin tribes in the Sinai, Transjordan and other regions. Oral history narratives and ancient historical sources indicate that the Bedouin presence in the Negev desert dates back at least to the 5th century AD.


The activist went on to say that “unrecognized villages” (or villages that are not recognized by Israel) were in existence before the colonial State of Israel was proclaimed. Currently, these villages are not shown on maps. Israeli authorities do not recognize local inhabitants’ land claims nor do they deliver public services to these villages.

Fadi al-Abrah, another youth activist and member of the Prawer Won’t Pass Campaign, described living conditions in the Negev desert, discussing standards of living as well as social, economic and health conditions. He described how Israel has implemented Judaization policies in the area beginning as early as the 1970s. At first, Negev residents were confined in the As Siyah area. Israeli authorities recognize only 11 Bedouin villages. Although the villages are managed by an unofficial municipal council, public services are not delivered to the local population. Health conditions are deteriorating in Bedouin communities, which have the highest child mortality rate and the highest number of people living with cancer in Israel.


Activist Abrah said that the youth movement has confronted the Judaization of the Negev area by working with local committees, including the National Steering Committee. Efforts made by the youth movement were crowned by the Day of Rage on November 30, 2013. In solidarity with the Prawer Won’t Pass Campaign, mass demonstrations took to the streets in several areas, including in Israel, the West Bank, and Arab and European countries. Protestors demanded that the Prawer Plan be cancelled.

Siwar Assi, also a youth activist and member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) against the Prawer Plan, addressed the role of local and international media outlets in amplifying the voices of Negev residents and putting pressure on the Israeli authorities. She said that ISM works with the residents to “cancel the Prawer Plan and disrupt its enactment and approval as a law.” She said that ISM works in two arenas: organizing the grassroots movement to mobilize the public in solidarity with the Prawer Won’t Pass Campaign, and internationalize the Negev desert case; and launching political and diplomatic activities in order to place pressure on the government of Israel. In this context, solidarity activists exercise pressure on their respective governments. Assi emphasized that the ISM is an auxiliary force that supports the grassroots movement in making its concerns heard across Europe and the Arab world.


Director of Adalah in the Negev area Thabet Abu Ras elaborated on the details of the Prawer plan and its consequences. He said that Israel engages the Arabs of the Negev as if they are a demographic and security issue. Israel is working towards establishing one Jewish state and consolidating its status as such. Currently, the Bedouin population lives on only two percent of the whole Negev area, but demands that its lands be increased to five percent. “For Arabs in Israel, what is going on in the Negev now is the most violent and most fierce since the 1948 Nakba,” Abu Ras said.


He then outlined the risks posed by fragmentation policies promoted by the Israeli colonial regime. The Israeli authorities have created a dichotomy of Arabs in Israel vs. Bedouins, etc. He stated his belief that the Prawer Plan won’t pass. “The Prawer Plan will be blocked by tribal law. As is historically demonstrated, the tribal legal system is more powerful and dominant,” Dr. Thabet concluded. 

In the ensuring discussion, participants spoke about the role played by authorities and various other bodies in supporting the Prawer Won’t Pass Campaign. Mechanisms will be devised to enhance Palestinian youth participation in this Campaign.