An Israeli human rights organisation on Monday accused the Israeli government of promoting “racist” policies in its decision to establish a Jewish town in the place of a Bedouin village.
The cabinet on Sunday approved the establishment of “two new communities in the Negev” desert in southern Israel, naming them as Kesif and Hiran.
But according to Suhad Bishara, director of the land and planning unit at Israeli Arab rights group Adalah, “in order to build Hiran it will accelerate the demolition of the unrecognised Umm el-Hieran village in the Negev and evict its residents”.
Bishara said this reflected a “racist policy”, noting “it is a residential area but the state is telling the Bedouins that they are unfit for this land and will bring in Jewish residents instead”.
She said the government had previously announced its intention to evict the Bedouin and build a town at the site in 2002, a decision being challenged in court with a hearing scheduled for November 20.
Bishara charged that establishing new Jewish towns in the Negev while evicting the incumbent Bedouin residents showed that the government was motivated primarily by “racist policies” against Arab Bedouin citizens.
She called on the authorities to engage in dialogue.
The Israeli housing and construction ministry, which is responsible for implementing the programme, said that the accusations were unfounded.
“So far their claims have been rejected by different court panels and by a number of building and planning committees, each and every one of which ruled that there is nothing to these claims or to (Bedouin) claims of ownership of the land on which Hiran is to be built,” ministry spokesman Ariel Rosenberg said in a written response to AFP.
He pointed to the eviction last month of Jewish environmentalists from a Negev hilltop and the demolition of the experimental community they built there without planning or construction permission.
“So any claim of racism should be dismissed out of hand — the law is equal for everyone,” he said.
A bill calling for the relocation of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin, the demolition of about 40 villages and confiscation of more than 700,000 dunams (70,000 hectares) of Negev land was approved by the government in January and by parliament in a first reading in June.
But it has to pass two more readings in parliament before becoming law.