The Prawer Plan: Ethnic Cleansing in the Negev

November 27, 2013 IMEU
The Prawer Plan: Ethnic Cleansing in the Negev



  • The so-called Begin-Prawer plan is a $5.6 billion (USD) Israeli government blueprint for the relocation of tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel from their ancestral homelands in the Negev (known as Naqab to Palestinians) desert in southern Israel.
  • Approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2011, Prawer is part of a long-term strategic effort to "Judaize" the area by increasing the Jewish population while concentrating the non-Jewish population and limiting its growth.
  • Prawer passed first reading in Israel’s parliament in June 2013 and is expected to receive final approval following a second and third reading shortly. If passed into law, it could result in the largest displacement of Palestinian citizens of Israel since the 1950s, shortly after the state was created.
  • In 2011, Yaron Ben Ezra, the director of the settlement division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) stated that the purpose of building new Jewish communities in the Negev is "to prevent the continued invasion of state lands by the Bedouin and to prevent the creation of Bedouin or Arab [territorial] contiguity." (The Bedouin are effectively regarded as foreign invaders by Israeli officials even though they lived on their ancestral lands in the Negev for centuries before the creation of the state of Israel.) Along with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the quasi-governmental WZO plays an important role in government efforts to “Judaize” the Negev and other parts of Israel.



  • Under Prawer, between 30,000 and 70,000 Bedouins living in dozens of villages that are "unrecognized" by the state will be forcibly relocated to government townships where they will be confined to an urban environment removed from their traditional ways of life.
  • About half of the approximately 160,000-200,000 Bedouins in the Negev reside in “unrecognized” communities. Although many of these communities pre-date the creation of Israel in 1948 and the residents have legal title to the land going back to British Mandate and Ottoman eras, the Israeli government does not recognize their legitimacy or provide services like electricity, running water, or sanitation.
  • While it provides partial land compensation to some people and others will be eligible for monetary compensation, most of those affected by Prawer don’t want to leave their land. Following their dispossession during Israel’s creation in 1948 and subsequently, they fear being displaced yet again by Israeli authorities and worry that they will end up in underserviced ghettoes like many of Israel’s other non-Jewish citizens.
  • Local and international human rights groups have condemned Prawer as discriminatory and in violation of international law. In an August 2013 statement from Amnesty International, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme Philip Luther declared.
    "The Prawer-Begin plan is a blatant example of Israel’s discriminatory policies towards its Palestinian minority. It must be dropped immediately."
  • In July 2013, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also expressed concern over Prawer, stating:
    "I am alarmed that this Bill, which seeks to legitimise forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset. If this Bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development."
  • Since 2009, Israel has destroyed more than 200 homes belonging to Bedouin in the Negev.



  • Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the government forcibly displaced most of the Bedouin population of the Negev desert from their ancestral lands. Like the rest of the Palestinian, non-Jewish population of Israel, for the first 18 years of the state’s existence they were ruled by Israeli military decree even though they were Israeli citizens.
  • During the early 1950s, most of the Bedouin in the Negev were relocated to a region known as the “Siyagh,” or “permitted” area, along the frontier with the West Bank, then under Jordanian control. In the ensuing years, many Bedouin returned to their land and have been struggling to remain on it ever since.
  • In the late 1990s the Israeli government stepped up efforts to remove Bedouin living in “unrecognized” communities in order the make way for new Jewish housing projects, handing out increasing numbers of demolition orders and, starting in 2002, spraying herbicides in some areas, killing crops and livestock, and causing health problems for people.
  • In the early 2000s, the government began drafting plans for expelling the Bedouin that ultimately resulted in the Prawer-Begin plan.



  • Since prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, the quasi-governmental JNF has played a key role in the efforts of the Zionist movement and subsequently the Israeli government to displace the native non-Jewish Arab population from historic Palestine in order to create and maintain a Jewish-majority state. Following the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians and systematic destruction of more than 400 Palestinian towns and villages that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948, the JNF planted forests in many areas, covering the ruins and evidence of the Palestinian Arab society that much of modern Israel is built over.
  • The JNF, whose website declares it is the “caretaker of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners - Jewish people everywhere," continues to play an important role in the distribution of state lands and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories today. Approximately 93% of the land in Israel is state-owned and controlled by the Israel Land Authority and quasi-governmental agencies like the Jewish National Fund, which systematically discriminate against non-Jewish citizens in its allocation.
  • In 2003, the JNF unveiled a $600 million (USD) plan called Blueprint Negev designed to attract 250,000 Israeli Jews to the region. In late 2011, the JNF announced a multi-year plan worth more than $282 million (USD) to build and expand housing for Jews in the Negev desert, in order to fulfill the "Zionist vision," according to JNF chairman Efi Stenzler. In June 2013, Stenzler told an interviewer: “The new Zionist idea is to develop Israel's periphery, namely, the Negev and the Galilee [a predominantly Arab part of northern Israel]. These plans include, for instance, establishing new communities for the people [settlers] that were evacuated from Gaza.” One of the JNF’s projects in the Negev is the Ambassador’s Forest, which is being built on land belonging to the residents of the Bedouin town of Al Araqeeb.
  • In the United States, the JNF is registered as a tax-deductible charitable organization, despite the fact that its discriminatory practices are in violation of American law.



  • In the early morning hours of July 27, 2010, more than 1000 Israeli soldiers and police officers invaded the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Al Araqeeb and destroyed its 45 structures, leaving some 300 people homeless. Refusing to abandon their land, the people of Al Araqeeb rebuilt only to have Israeli bulldozers return to destroy their homes again. In the three and a half years since, this process has repeated itself over and over again, with Israeli authorities demolishing Al Araqeeb more than 60 times (most recently, as of this writing, on November 20, 2013). The remaining residents of Al Araqeeb, who have legal papers attesting to their ownership of the land pre-dating Israel’s existence, now live in a cluster of tents and structures surrounding the century-old village graveyard, the only part of the community that Israeli authorities have not yet attempted to destroy. In August 2010, shortly after Al Araqeeb was demolished for the first time, Human Rights Watch condemned the destruction, with HRW’s deputy Middle East director Joe Stork declaring that "Israel employs systematically discriminatory policies in the Negev… It is tearing down historic Bedouin villages before the courts have even ruled on pending legal claims, and is handing out Bedouin land to allow Jewish farmers to set up ranches."
  • On November 10, 2013, the Israeli cabinet voted to remove the approximately 500 Bedouin residents of the village of Umm al-Hiran and to build a town for Israeli Jews in its place. Umm al-Hiran’s residents were uprooted from their land during Israel’s creation and remained displaced until 1956, when they were ordered by Israeli military authorities to settle in their present location. The new Jewish Israeli town, which will be named Hiran, will include 2500 housing units, and will be comprised mainly of national religious Jews, according to press reports. Following the cabinet vote approving the destruction of Umm al-Hiran, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz published an editorial declaring that the decision “constitutes a new low in the state’s treatment of the Bedouin of the Negev, and a new stage in Israel’s becoming an ethnocracy: a regime that exists for the good of a single ethnic group, and that grants rights on the basis of ethnic affiliation rather than the principles of equality.”


photo: Shiraz Grinbaum (