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 *


  • Commentary Featured Sports Remembering Myra Kraft on Super Bowl Sunday

    Remembering Myra Kraft on Super Bowl Sunday – I am a Dallas Cowboys fan still recovering from our playoff defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, or should I say, the instant replay booth. Still, football is like life—not always fair. And even the lead-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl has lacked fairness, as the media is obsessed with deflated footballs. Fans of the sport are not enjoying the sidebar stories that always accompany the lead-up to the big game. When the Patriots and the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW) – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →

Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.