The Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee toured the Negev Sunday as part of an ongoing discussion over the law to formalize Bedouin settlement in the area.
In an indication of the high tensions over the issue, Arab Members of Knesset on the committee refused to take part in the tour, and Bedouin municipalities went on strike in protest.
The government is currently planning a multi-pronged approach to the issue of large-scale unauthorized Bedouin settlement in the Negev that will see some illegal communities legalized and given government services, while others are relocated and compensated with cash or alternate land.
In total, Bedouin communities will be awarded roughly 180,000 dunams (45,000 acres) of state-owned land.
Arab and Bedouin organizations have accused the government of racism over the plan - dubbed the Prawer plan - which they argue will lead to “forced displacement” of Bedouin and “dispossession of their historical lands.” Many Bedouin communities argue historic rights to land in the Negev, which they say was traditionally considered Bedouin territory despite the lack of permanent settlement in the area.
But others argue that historically the Bedouins - who lived a nomadic life - did not own any land at all, and are not even indigenous to the area, having migrated from nearby countries after the establishment of the State of Israel.
During the trip, Committee head MK Miri Regev (Likud) was confronted by protesting Bedouin youth who accused the government of planning to take their homes away. Regev argued that the Knesset’s intention is the opposite.
Last week Regev removed several Arab MKs from a meeting of the Interior Committee after they ignored her calls to come to order during a debate over the Negev plan. Arab MKs were outraged by the views expressed by representatives from the Regavim organization which opposes illegal Arab settlements, who argued that the state cannot be expected to provide proper services - such as water and electricity - for far-flung Bedouin settlements built without authorization, declaring that “the Bedouin have obligations to the state as well.”