Amid Global Focus on Jewish Construction, NGO Counters Illegal Arab Building

June 12, 2013 10:40 am 0 comments

A Bedouin encampment near the Ramat Hovav industrial zone in the Negev. The proposed Prawer Law, which would retroactively legalize tens of thousands of Bedouin structures, has angered anti-settlements NGOs because it stipulates that several thousand Bedouin must relocate from positions in close proximity to Ramat Hovav, a site that has been deemed unsuitable for residential zoning due to the pollutants emitted from the factories. Photo: Shay Levy/Flash90. - While the international community often focuses on the legal status of Jewish construction in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, two Israeli government initiatives—a proposed transfer of Israeli land near Jericho to Palestinians and a law that would retroactively legalize tens of thousands of Bedouin structures in the south—are highlighting the issue of illegal Arab building across Israel.

At the forefront of tackling this issue is Regavim, an NGO that tracks illegal Arab building and prosecutes it in Israeli courts.

A Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria proposal to transfer 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of Israeli land to Palestinians near Jericho, in the Jewish-controlled Jordan Valley, represents the continuation of a pattern in which Arabs living in Areas A and B, which are under Palestinian municipal authority, are being legally permitted to relocate to large tracts of land in Area C, areas designated for Jewish residence under full Israeli control.

The move is being criticized by Jewish regional councils for being conducted at a time when Arabs can build almost at will in Areas A and B, while permits for Jewish building in Area C are being severely restricted as a result of what many believe to be the Israeli government’s efforts to pacify the international community.

“If a Jewish family puts up a patio on a house—anywhere in Israel—without a permit, municipal authorities can come into your house and get you to tear it down,” Ari Briggs, the director of Regavim, told

“Jews are forced to adhere to a very strict building framework, while Arabs in many parts of the country are given a free hand.  And this is exactly the opposite view that the international community has of Israel,” Briggs said.

Regavim—whose name comes from the Hebrew word “regev,” meaning a small patch of land, originating from a Zionist poem about reclaiming the land of Israel “dunam by dunam, regev by regev”—works to track illegal Arab building across Israel, with a particular focus on the Negev in the south of the country, the Galil in the north, and in Judea and Samaria.

While dozens of NGOs focus on relatively limited incidents of illegal Jewish building, Regavim is the only NGO focusing its energies on the rampant pattern of illegal Arab building taking place across the country.

Currently, Regavim has 30 cases being tried in Israeli courts, with up to 140 investigations being conducted at any time.

Many of Regavim’s current efforts are focusing on the south, where the largest numbers of illegal structures exist. The government is currently attempting to put a stop to illegal building, but those efforts give rise to controversy.

A new law known as the Prawer Law, which would retroactively legalize tens of thousands of Bedouin structures, is drawing ire from the anti-settlement NGOs, but not because the Prawer Plan—if passed—will seemingly reward decades of illegal construction on state lands and nature reserves. Rather, the plan has angered the NGOs because it stipulates that several thousand Bedouin must relocate from positions in close proximity to the Ramat Hovav industrial zone, a site that has been deemed unsuitable for residential zoning due to the pollutants emitted from the factories.

Bedouin have been actively opposing the law in recent weeks. At a recent protest, Atiya al-Aassm, head of the Regional Committee for unrecognized villages in the Negev, is reported to have said in an address, “We want to tell Prawer, [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni and all decision-makers that we have endured 65 years of water scarcity and all forms of torture, and we will continue to endure and will not give up one inch of our land.”

“I urge the Ministers not to pass their discriminatory law; do not drive us to violence,” al-Assam said.

While the NGOs are accusing Israel of enforcing discriminatory policies against a minority population, Bedouin have for many years been building with no municipal planning, permits, or compliance with modern building standards on land that they never formally owned. As a result, the structures are not legally connected to Israel’s electricity grid or national water carrier.

According to Regavim, more than 90,000 of 210,000 Bedouin live in more than 2,000 separate unauthorized encampments, covering 800,000 dunams (200,000 acres) in the northern Negev between Beersheva, Dimona and Arad.

“Ninety percent of these structures are built on public lands, owned by either the state or the Jewish National Fund. And they have become much more brazen in their land grabs over last 10 years,” Briggs told

“Everybody understands that because Israel is such a small country, land is one of the most critical resources to safeguard,” he said. “Bedouin are claiming ownership of a parcel of land more than double the size of the Gaza Strip.”

The new law would recognize more than half of the Bedouin homes in their current locations and transfer additional large tracts of land in strategically planned areas to the nomadic Bedouin to build formal communities.

According to the Prawer Plan, more than half of the land that Bedouin currently reside on would be legally transferred and formally established as Bedouin communities. Bedouin would then be compensated for the remaining lands they currently claim and receive tracts of other land for the establishment of permanent communities.

The plan calls for investment of 9.5 billion NIS into Bedouin communities in the next five years.  Development of Bedouin infrastructure will reportedly be administered with coordination from 16 government ministries and agencies.

The need for clamping down on illegal Bedouin building is obvious. Bedouin are known for having among the fastest population growth rates in the world.

According to Briggs, Bedouin sport a growth rate 5.6 percent and double their population every 15 years.

“Polygamy is a common practice among Bedouin, with each male averaging three to four wives, and an astounding 20 to 30 children per male,” Briggs said.

Bedouin live in the Negev in areas of the country that are not considered by any authority to be disputed territories—meaning Bedouin live under full Israeli sovereignty and must adhere fully to Israeli law, which they currently do not.

“Living in illegal structures keeps Bedouin off the legal grid, so to speak, so they can’t be tracked,” Briggs explained. “They are untraceable. They don’t have a legal address and don’t pay any forms of taxes. This is despite the fact that they have full Israeli citizenship, with formal identity cards, and the right to vote in Israeli elections.”

Furthermore, Bedouin are well known for criminal activity, including running mafia-style protection rackets, forcing landowners and even government-owned companies including Israel’s National Road Authority to pay fees to guarantee the protection of their infrastructure and equipment.

According to Briggs, the situation is beyond unlawful.

“The Bedouin are running major crime and smuggling rings. They are responsible for the smuggling of everything from drugs to women to weapons,” he said.

Israeli farms “need to be protected with prison-like fences to protect crops, animals and equipment,” Briggs asserts.

“The government needs to do a better job protecting the land in the Jewish state,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’ – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’ – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →

Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.