Israel Backs Off Plan to Expel Negev's Bedouins; Congress Set to Triple Aid to Israel
December 13, 2013
Al Jazeera America & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
Israel is halting a controversial plan that would have forced the relocation of tens of thousands of native Bedouin residents of the Negev desert. Meanwhile, in Washington, a budget crunch threatens spending programs across the board. But an exception is being made for Israel. In addition to $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel for 2014 and another $96 million for anti-missile systems. Congress has pledged an additional $284 million in funding for Israel.
Israel's Divided Government Scraps
Controversial Bedouin Relocation Plan
Al Jazeera America
(December 12, 2013) -- Israel is scrapping a controversial draft law that would have forced the relocation of tens of thousands of native Bedouin residents of the Negev desert, an official said Thursday.
Benny Begin, tasked with implementing the plan, said he had recommended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "end the debate on the law" in the country's parliament.
"The prime minister accepted this proposal," Begin said at a Tel Aviv news conference, days after it emerged that the governing coalition was divided on the proposed legislation.
The move -- which is known as the Prawer Plan and would have ordered the demolition of about 40 so-called unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and the relocation of between 30,000 and 40,000 people -- passed a preliminary ministerial vote in January.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said Bedouin communities in the Negev face discrimination within Israeli society. More than 160,000 Bedouin live in unrecognized villages in the Negev, where the state does not provide basic services like water and electricity.
Rights activists say the Israeli government uses a variety of measures to pressure Bedouins into relocating into government townships and abandoning their nomadic lifestyles. Entire communities have been issued demolition orders, and some villages have reportedly been demolished numerous times.
But the relocation plan faced opposition from critics both on the right, who said the compensation offered in land and money was too generous, and on the left, who said the plan was racist, and accused the government of usurping the land of indigenous Arabs.
'Wrong and Unjust'
After a heated debate of the parliamentary interior committee this week, coalition Chairman Yariv Levin of Netanyahu's Likud party said he would not pass the Prawer Plan into law.
Begin rejected the notion that a series of demonstrations against the plan in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip forced the about-turn.
"There is no majority in the coalition for the bill," he said.
Had the Prawer Plan been adopted, it would have also seen the confiscation of more than 270 square miles of land claimed by the Bedouin community.
Orit Struk, a member of parliament for the far-right Jewish Home party, commended the decision to strike down the bill, which she described as "wrong and unjust."
Begin's move proved that "correct political actions can change past mistakes," she said in a news release.
Arab Israeli MP Mohammed Barakeh of the Hadash party also welcomed the move, but warned of "excessive optimism" since the plan was "still on in essence," and said the "struggle for our people in the Naqab (Negev) must continue."
ACRI said that "now the government has an opportunity to have a real dialogue with the Bedouin community in the Negev."
It said the Bedouin wanted "to solve the problem of the unrecognized villages and live in Israel as citizens with full rights."
Activists from around the world participated in a so-called Day of Rage on Nov. 30 to show their support for the Bedouin and protest the plan.
About 260,000 Bedouin live in Israel, mostly in and around the Negev in the arid south.
Al Jazeera and wire services
In Budget Crunch, Congress Still Triples
Aid Request for Israel
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 12, 2013) -- With a budget crunch threatening programs across the board, almost every spending request that hits Congress gets only partially filled. Unless you're talking Israel.
The US was already sending $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel for 2014, and President Obama requested another $96 million for anti-missile systems. Congress took that number and tripled it.
Buried in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, Congress pledged another $284 million in funding for Israel. A separate bill is also pushing the administration for more "reviews" of whether or not they're giving sufficient aid to Israel, seeking a full review every two years.
Experts say that Israel's much-vaunted missile defense systems likely don't work nearly as well as the official figures claim, and the Israeli military defunded them outright as not cost effective, which is why the US started bankrolling the program instead.
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