UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has sharply criticized Israel for its plan to expel thousands of Bedouins living in Israel’s southern desert of Negev.
In a statement on Thursday, Pillay urged the Tel Aviv regime to reconsider its so-called Prawer-Begin Bill which calls for the relocation of 30,000-40,000 Arab Bedouins, demolition of 40 villages and confiscation of over 70,000 hectares of land in Negev.
"I am alarmed that this bill, which seeks to legitimize forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset (Israeli parliament)," Pillay said.
The controversial bill was approved in January by the Israeli cabinet and later endorsed by the Knesset in June. The bill needs two more votes to be signed into law.
Pillay stated that if the 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."
She stressed that Arab Bedouins are “entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services” as any other people living in Israel.
Israeli occupation government must recognize and respect “the specific rights of the Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims,” Pillay also said.
However, Israel "continues to actively pursue a discriminatory policy of forced displacement” against the Arab people living there, she added.
Some 260,000 Bedouins live in and around Negev. More than half of them live in unrecognized villages without facilities and many of them live in extreme poverty.
On July 18, Amnesty International called on the Israeli occupation government to halt plans to demolish Bedouin homes, saying the plans are “discriminatory” and “cannot be accepted in any circumstances.”