Israel must stop squatting Bedouin, lawmaker says

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel must find a way to halt the illegal squatting of Israeli Bedouin, in order to help the Bedouin and to assert Israel’s claim to the land, lawmaker Yuli Edelstein told a special forum. 

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The non-profit research institute Regavim conducted two events last week focusing on the sharp rise of squatting and illegal settling of vast tracts of land in the country’s Negev region.

Edelstein, minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, was the keynote speaker for an emergency public forum, called “Which Way for the Negev?,” at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Its panel of experts included Prof. Rafi Yisraeli and Dr. Seth Frantzman. The special presentation concentrated on spiraling illegal building by the Negev’s Bedouin inhabitants and challenges to Israeli rule of law as well as solutions to counter the mounting crisis.

“Regavim deals with very complicated issues of land rights, which have become increasingly urgent.  To reclaim the land and assert Israel’s sovereign control, the organization engages in ongoing research and legal action to succeed in this mission,” said Minister Edelstein. “We must break the merry-go-round cycle of lawful eviction of illegal settlements followed by the immediate return of illegal squatting if we truly care about ensuring Government plans for Israeli Bedouins, which will benefit the entire population of the Negev.”

The second part of the Regavim fact-finding event was a tour to the sites of illegal activities for over 150 participants in three full buses of English-speaking Israelis and tourists, each led by experts. One site visited was the village of Al-Zarnog which is built on private land and is currently the subject of a court case in which Regavim is assisting its legal landowners.

“Our intention is to conduct more of these events to educate the public about the true facts on the ground and to increase pressure on the government to effectively enforce Israel’s sovereignty in the country’s national lands, including the Negev,” said Briggs. “There has been much attention focused on settlements deemed ‘illegal’ in the West Bank, including forced evacuations. Far less in the public eye have been shocking illegal land grabs on this side of the Green Line, in the Negev.”

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