Bedouin Encroachment In the Negev

By January 4, 2016 National Public Lands

The Judge Goldberg Report from a Practical Point of View

By: Gilad Altman and Adi Arbel



During the fourteen years between 1990 and 2004, Gilad Altman served as the director of the “Sayeret HaYeruka” and played an active role in the issue discussed in the Committee Report.  From the experience he obtained, and from the knowledge amassed during his meetings with experts as part of the Lands Committee of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, the writers of this article seek to shed light on the central strong and weak points of the report in light of an analysis of the issue of Bedouin Settlement Land Arrangements in the Negev.  The writers additionally present practical suggestions for reaching a suitable, comprehensive, real and quick solution to the concern at hand.


In December 2007, Judge Goldberg was appointed to chair the Public Committee for the Proposal of Bedouin Settlement Arrangement Policy for the Negev.  A year later, in December 2008, the committee submitted its proposals to the Minister of Housing.

The committee’s mandate, as determined by the government resolution was as follows: “The committee is to submit its proposal for the creation of a comprehensive, extensive and implementable plan that is to set the rules for an arrangement for the Bedouin settlement in the Negev that is to include levels of compensation, arrangements for the allotment of alternative lands, civil enforcement and a timetable for the implementation of arrangements, including proposals for legislation, as required“.


The Bedouin issue is a complex issue comprised of a number of challenges.  Only serious confrontation and a proper response to these challenges will allow us to reach a comprehensive arrangement for the issue.  Ignoring any one of the many obstacles will eventually ruin the chances of reaching an arrangement.  Among the many challenges that must be overcome to resolve the Bedouin issue are: their claims of possession over the land, the lack of enforcement of building and planning laws, the lack of foundations, a low level of economic development, sparse settlement in a western state, polygamy and an accelerated birthrate.

In its report, the Committee was required to present a comprehensive solution for the arrangement of the issue of Bedouins in the Negev, though this particular solution proved to be no more than another link on the chain of failed past solutions.  The committee report was not able to reach enough conclusions in order to reach an implementable solution.  Its recommendations constitute a continuation of the current practice of turning a blind eye to many of the existing problems.  The current committee, perhaps because of those who constitute it, and perhaps because of other reasons, produced a report that only partially responds to the challenges listed above, and thus the committee did not fulfill the mandate assigned to it.  Moreover, another chance was missed to for a comprehensive solution to the Bedouin issue.


In the words of the Committee: “We will not list all of the past committees that proposed solutions for the Bedouin settlements in the Negev.  The multiplicity of committees did not bring about a real change in the matter for which they were created, they did not leave any indications of their actions, nor were any substantial changes made as a result of their actions…”.

In the political culture of the State of Israel, the temptation to bury the Committee report is strong.  The easiest solution, both for the executive authority and for the report’s critics is to present, using real and justified claims, the conclusions of the Committee as partial and/or erroneous, and thus to reject the report in its entirety.  In this article, it will be explained why and how the State of Israel must adopt the report as part of the solution to the Bedouin issue.


The State of Israel must not continue burying its head in the sand.  In the Bedouin issue and in the defending of State lands, the clock is ticking both for the Bedouins and for the State of Israel.  A population growth rate of 5.5 percent per year, which doubles the Bedouin population every thirteen years, exacerbates the situation plaguing Bedouins today and will bring about not only future generations of Bedouins growing up in poverty and misery, but also will cause the Jewish majority to lose its grip on the Negev.  Rejecting the report, like the lack of implementation of previous proposals for an arrangement, will only postpone the arrangement for a few years, meanwhile allowing the problems to rapidly intensify.

Moreover, the report presents a number of important core principles that are suitable to be included in a future solution, and laying these ideas aside will in effect also lay aside several worthwhile parts of the report.  Additionally, one of the report’s greatest shortcomings can also be seen as a great advantage: When the committee ignored a number of basic issues in its proposals, it essentially passed the responsibility on to the executive authority.  This is a golden opportunity for the implementation committee appointed to “submit to the government a detailed and applicable draft for the arrangement of Bedouin settlements in the Negev“.  Provided that the staff does its work faithfully, it will be possible to reach a suitable and comprehensive solution that will appropriately deal with each of the many challenges that comprise the issue.

The mandate taken on by the staff appears limited: “The staff’s primary responsibility will be the committee report, in which it will be required, among other things, to make recommendations to settle reservations arising among committee members“, but in practice, this is actually a very broad assignment.  One who reads the report in depth will see that the writers of the report, at times explicitly and at times inferred, left the task of implementation to the executive authority. Furthermore, many of the reservations brought up by the committee members, both from Bedouin and government representatives were fundamental and allowed the implementation staff great maneuvering ability.


In order to enable discussion regarding a suitable solution, there needs to be consensus on the starting points of the discussion:

  1. There must be recognition of the fact that the responsibility for past processes, the current situation, and a future arrangement lies upon the government.
  2. It must be understood that the current situation, as well as the future situation, provided that the handling of the issue remains unchanged, prove detrimental both to the Jewish population and the Bedouin population.
  3. The decision makers must take on the task of implementing an arrangement at all costs, despite the fact that a considerable number of government resolutions are never implemented, out of understanding that postponing an arrangement will cause Israel to lose the Negev and transform it into a land that is free of the law.
  4. The appropriate solution must be substantially different from all proposed past failed solutions.Additionally, because the plan is to be carried out over a number of years, it is crucial that it is widely accepted by the government and supported by various parties and sectors, so that it may be continued to be carried out for as long as necessary, regardless of changes in the government.

In order to reach a comprehensive and suitable plan solution that will be able to be implemented, the implementation committee must carefully examine the deficiencies of the document, reflected by ignoring of key issues, in order to hasten the consent of the committee.  There are least six examples of this:


  1. The Settlements – Clause 56 attributes the failure in establishing new settlements to the lack of attractiveness of the settlements as opposed to the conditions in the unrecognized settlements, “especially in light of the Supreme Court ruling calling for basic services in unrecognized settlements“. Despite the awareness of this essential fact, the committee chooses to ignore this.  Because of the fact that the laws will not change, even following the implementation of the proposed policy, it will still be difficult to make the legal settlements more attractive.  The situation described in the report in which “there is a trend of ‘negative immigration’, meaning moving from the legal settlements back to the unrecognized settlements” is destined to continue. The implementation committee must deal with the current situation, and will perhaps have to work to change it to ensure the success of the arrangement.


  1. Enforcement – Clause 139 is the only clause that discusses the enforcement of the plans listed in the recommendations chapter (Clauses 71-149). “From now on, there must be a firm and forceful enforcement, without which there is no purpose for our proposals“.  The committee’s reaction was an attempt to evade properly dealing with the issue.  The committee did not propose allocating resources to enforcement officials, did not suggest adding regulations and did not even attempt to explain how we reached a situation in which “south of Beersheva there is no God and no government“.  Three possible reasons caused the committee to easily skip over the subject: the desire to avoid criticism of the police, the desire to avoid criticism of the Bedouin culture, and the reason that is most important to us: the desire to avoid saying what has to be said: implementing this clause would require an enormous budget.  The committee knows that the larger the budget required to implement the proposals of the committee becomes, the chances of the government and the treasury’s approval lessen.  It is clear that with no budget, proposals or substantial plans, the proposal to strengthen the enforcement will go nowhere. The same enforcement that without which “there is no purpose for our proposals“.
  2. High Fertility Rate – Clause 23 describes the high growth rate of the Bedouin population and its future trends.  It is reasonable to assume that the birthrate will drop in the case that an arrangement promoting education and other Western values is reached, but not on a large enough scale to substantially improve the socio-economic situation of the Bedouin population and to remove them from the cycle of poverty that currently plagues them.  This cycle is caused because their high birthrate along with their low socio-economic level do not allow for a high enough level of education to permit future generations to improve their economic situation. The committee did indeed choose to ignore this sensitive subject, but it is recommended for the implementation committee to plan, in conjunction with the leaders of the Bedouin community, a plan for reducing the birthrate.
    1. Bigamy – Clause 24 describes the high fertility rate in the Bedouin population and attributes it, among other factors, to “the bigamy phenomenon, commonly found among Bedouins in the Negev, despite its being a felony (by means of ignoring the government)“. Even so, the Committee chose to ignore this issue throughout the entire document, as well as in its proposed policy. This issue is pertinent both on the fundamental and practical levels.  On the fundamental level, whoever is interested in keeping the State of Israel a Jewish, democratic and law-abiding State cannot allow himself to ignore this issue.  On the practical level, bigamy accelerates the already high birthrate, and thus lessens the chances of reaching an arrangement.  The implementation committee cannot allow itself to evade dealing with this issue, including combating the trend of Bedouin marriage to women from Gaza, Hebron and neighboring states.
    2. The Legal Aspect – Clauses 141-143 discuss the opinion pieces of the governmental authorities, the Attorney General, the Budgeting Department, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, The Israel Land Administration and the Planning Administration of the Ministry of Interior.  The Committee did not obligate itself to accept the recommendations of those authorities; likewise it did not publish them and still refuses to have them published.  We can learn about the views of the Attorney General by the words of hesitation by government representatives, Sharon Gambasho and Yossi Yishai: “We are of the opinion that the proposal should not be instated regarding the lack of enforcement regarding illegal construction in the legislation.  Such a ruling would result in certain difficulty in enforcement with regard to many structures, as presented by the Attorney General“.  While being able to ignore legal difficulties is a privilege reserved only for the proposal writers, the implementation committee must be able to deal with those same difficulties.  In order to prevent legal foot-dragging that would delay the implementation of the arrangement, it is hereby proposed to establish a separate ad-hoc mechanism to provide accelerated legal assistance for legal advice and claims management.

It should be mentioned that in the chapter on treatment, two committee members (Sharon Gambasho and Yossi Yishai, two out of three government representatives in the committee) offer a number of important recommendations, at least some of which are worth adopting.  The recommendations touch upon issues such as property rights, recognition of settlements, legalizing illegal construction and the way in which the policy is to be implemented; they also respond to additional issues that were not discussed in this article.

Aside from those lacunae presented in the report, we must learn from past experience in order not to repeat old mistakes.  The lands and illegal construction issue was previously debated by the Markovich Committee (1986) and the Gazit Committee (2000). In retrospect, it is clear that these reports not only did not solve the problem, they exacerbated it, and in this manner, they ended up causing harm to both the Bedouin population and the State.  In previous reports, as in this report, illegal buildings were approved or ignored as an allegedly humane and correct gesture.  Yet this ruling proved time and again as incorrect and inhumane.

It is incorrect because the approval to legalize an illegal structure has ramifications on the past only, and thus only solves half the problem. The other half lies in the future and is dependent on the ability of the people to uphold the law (once an overall plan is approved) and to enforce it (the prevention of renewed illegal construction).  Without these two components, the task will never be completed, resulting in an understanding that breaking the law was worthwhile in the past, is currently worthwhile and will continue to prove worthwhile in the future.

Permitting the continuation of illegal construction without the proper follow-up is inhumane in that it constitutes a danger to the Bedouin population itself.  Its dispersed population resides in unsafe structures that do not meet Israeli planning and building standards and are lacking proper foundations (such as water, electricity, and sewage) that do not meet safety and environmental standards.  Even public service buildings, such as medical clinics and schools, are built illegally by the government.

The younger generation grows up in this reality and discovers that breaching the law is in its best interest and learns to ignore the State’s demands.  There is no one who counters this wrongdoing, and the State itself, in its actions, sends a message that delinquency pays off.  The current habits of ignorance of the law and ineffective enforcement cause the crime rate to spread to other areas: from property damage to violence.

On the whole, people prefer to belong to stronger, more just and higher quality society.  From the point of view of the Bedouin child in the Negev who grew up in such a reality, the State of Israel is not strong, as it does not enforce its laws; is not just, as it does not stand behind its promises; and is not of high quality, as seen by the low standard of living in his village.  In such a reality, it is easy for a Bedouin child to join one of the many separatist groups who oppose the State.  It is our responsibility to change this reality as soon as possible.

It is possible to change this reality.  One way is through the implementation of the Goldberg Committee Report, after a few necessary adjustments and the solidification of certain parts to ensure the completion of the arrangement as described.  Nonetheless, progressing down this path is also dangerous.  The process leading up to implantation is likely to be lengthy, which may turn this committee into another governmental obligation that the State did not stand behind.  Valuable time will be wasted; the plight of the Bedouins will become worse; and the tiny bit of trust in the State of Israel among the Bedouins will dissipate.

Fortunately there is another shorter and more effective way: the decision makers must remove all of the political obstacles, set the Goldberg Report aside, and clean the dust off of Government Resolution no. 216 (ARB/15) from 17.9.03 “The Plan for Dealing with the Bedouin Sector in the Negev – Revised Version of Resolution no. 216 (ARB/1), 14.4.03, including revisions approved in Resolution no. 216 (ARB/14), 17.9.03”.


This resolution was put into effect at a time when the government was faced with the same needs and considerations that it was faced with in the Goldberg Committee.  The program approved in the resolution is already ready to be implemented and appropriately responds to the needs of the population in all areas of life, beginning with developing existing permanent settlements to establishing new settlements to improving living conditions in the settlements, including education, culture and welfare in order for these to serve as a center of attraction for the dispersed population.  A complimentary step would be the strengthening of the enforcement including a proper allocation of resources and budgeting, including a timetable for step by step implementation.  All that is left is to make a decision and to act on it: To send this plan back to the legislators, approve it as a law to be implemented, appoint appropriate professionals and ensure full support spanning all parties for as long as the project takes until completion.

We must act now, as there is no time to form a third committee.


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