MK Miri Regev
MK Miri RegevIsrael news photo: Flash 90

MK Miri Regev (Likud-Beytenu) on Wednesday ejected several Arab MKs from a discussion of the Knesset Interior Committee, which she chairs. The Arab MKs were ejected after they attempted to shout down representatives of groups who disagree with them on a new law to authorize Bedouin settlements in the Negev.

According to the law, which has been approved on its first reading, Negev Bedouin will be awarded about 180,000 dunams (45,000 acres) of state land, where they can set up farming or urban communities. The land will be given to them for free. The giveaway is part of a deal to organize Bedouin settlement in the Negev, where many illegal Bedouin settlements have been set up on state land.

Many of the Bedouin are squatting on state land, but instead of evicting them, the state is offering to “compensate” them for much of the value of the land with a cash payment – as well as provide them with a new parcel of land.

Many of the villages stand in the way of important security, housing, transportation, and industrial projects the state would like to proceed with.

While many of the tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev have agreed to the plan, many others have not, and Arab MKs have been leading the opposition to any compromise on the issue. That point of view was represented at the Knesset discussion by the Bamakom group, which advocates state recognition of all illegal Arab settlements in the Negev.

Those settlements currently do not receive any official services, such was water, electricity, or sewage. Many of them use poorly-ventilated generators to produce electricity and dispose of their waste in wadis and streams in the Negev, creating a major environmental hazard. In some cases, the illegal settlements break into water infrastructure belonging to Israel's Mekorot water company, stealing and wasting water, a rare resource in the arid Negev.

Presenting the opposing point of view were Bezalel Smotrich and Meir Deutsch of the Regavim organization, who said that the generous plan the state had offered was the minimum necessary. “There is no way the state can provide proper services for the 324 families that are affected over the 300,000 dunams they live on. We cannot submit to the pressure being put on us to continue with this situation,” they said.

“The Bedouin are Israeli citizens, and the State must give what it can. But as citizens the Bedouin have obligations to the State,” they said. “Looking at this as a 'nationalist' issue, as many Arab MKs seem to be doing, will not solve anything,” they said over the shouts of Arab MKs demanding they be removed from the platform.

After calling for order several times and not receiving a response, Regev ordered the removal of several of the Arab MKs.