Please use your authority to reverse the Israeli government's decision to send the Praver/Begin bill to the Knesset, where it is scheduled for a first reading on Monday.
Israel is poised to use the full might of state power against a hapless minority. The Praver/Begin bill that the government has sent to the Knesset will demolish tens of villages, transfer some 40,000 citizens from their homes to townships that are statistically proven to have four times more poverty and unemployment than recognized villages, and dispossess them of most of their lands without fair due process. You will create a new "Bedouin Pale of Settlement" similar to the Jewish Pale of Settlement in the late 19th century.
You have a coalition agreement to support legislation to resolve the issue of the Negev Bedouin, but you are not bound to this particular bill. And, no coalition agreement can override your obligation to carry out the Torah's command, "When a non-Jew resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him or her. The non-Jew shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. " (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Seen as strangers, the Bedouin are victims of prejudice and stereotypes. They are seen as criminals and illegal squatters who will take over the Negev. Yet, if all of their land claims were to be proven and honored, they are only asking for 5.4% of the Negev. The Bedouin are not inherently criminal or violent. However, uprooted from their lands and their culture, crime abounds in the artificially created townships. "The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied." (Pirke Avot)
The Praver/Begin bill stipulates complicated formulas, where the best that a Bedouin landowner can hope for is to hold on to 50% of their land. This is using state power to dispossess and uproot. Are these the prophetic values of "Freedom, Justice and Peace" espoused in Israel's Declaration of Independence? Is this "Full and equal social and political rights for all, regardless of religion, race or gender?"
As Israel is faced with tough economic choices and serious socioeconomic problems, it is terribly unwise to use NIS 6- 8 billion to create additional problems. The rates of poverty, unemployment, crime and drugs are much higher in the artificially created townships than in the villages. Cutting off people from their sources of income and destroying their social fabric and way of life will only increase these problems, and the funds needed to deal with them. At the same time, the increasing tension created will discourage investment, and make matters worse for both the Jewish and Bedouin residents of the Negev.
The time has come for an equitable resolution of Bedouin rights in the Negev. Any worthy resolution must preserve the following principles:
A. It will be arrived at only with real involvement from the Bedouin community institutions.
B. Full recognition for the 35 "Unrecognized villages, even if that means altering the national zoning plan.
C. Acceptance of the ownership claims made in the 1970’s.
D. Diversity of settlement types, not just towns or large villages.
E. Integration of the community in planning and finding solutions.
F. Developing the Negev equally – for all its residents.
The first step is that the government withdraw its support for the Praver/Begin Bill, and that there be no first reading this Monday.
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