“The Goldberg Opportunity” Revisited
Following the Israeli government-appointed Goldberg Commission in 2008, an inquiry into how to “regulate” the 45 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in of the country’s southern Naqab region, HIC-HLRN organized in an international fact-finding mission (IFFM) of eminent experts to proffer human rights-based solutions to the planning and land-rights problems addressed in the Goldberg recommendations. HIC-HLRN submitted the IFFM’s findings to the Government of Israel (GoI) and published the full report in The Goldberg Opportunity. However, on 11 September 2011, the Israeli Cabinet instead approved a plan to remove and dispossess the village inhabitants, concentrating them in designated “townships.” This emblematic case of institutionalized discrimination and land deprivation in Israel was also a subject of a UN review of Israel’s human rights obligations at the end of 2011.
The indigenous Arab-Bedouin people have long been in conflict with the Government of Israel, which has been expanding Jewish settlements, displacing the indigenous Bedouins and denying their right to their lands. The Goldberg Commission also acknowledged that, since 1948, Arab-Bedouin citizens have endured forced evictions, population transfers, demolition of homes and entire villages, confiscation of land and consequently severe damage to their traditional livelihood and way of life. Goldberg also conceded that existing Israeli legal provisions were not conducive to a fair solution. However, the Goldberg recommendations worked within the context of standing urban development plans and assumed that collective land claims remain outside any acceptable solution. HIC-HLRN and the Regional Council of Unrecognized villages (RCUV) responded with practical recommendations that also would secure the rights of the communities of unrecognized villages in the region within a framework of universal human rights norms absent in the Goldberg commission.
Recommendations of the IFFM included state recognition of indigenous villages, nondiscrimination in delivering local government services, a halt to the destruction of homes and villages, and reparation for Bedouin victims of gross violations of human rights. The solutions for applying the recommendations of the Goldberg report presented the Israeli government with a chance to establish a human-rights based statecraft in Israel; i.e., an opportunity to meet the minimum requirements of a state in the international system by upholding equal rights and responsibilities for all citizens. Central to the IFFM’s critique of Israel’s treatment of its non-Jewish citizens, is the state’s institutional discrimination. Whereas South African apartheid system was pinned in the Population Registry Act, which differentiated classifications and rights based on skin color, Israel practice of discrimination is not divulged in a single legislative act, but through a series of laws and institutions dedicated to the exclusive benefit of those recognized as having “Jewish nationality.” Therefore, the IFFM issued a wider recommendation of a fundamental change in state policy toward applying human rights principles and instruments in the determination of planning criteria equally applied to all citizens.
The recent development to further punish the Bedouin residents further stems from a committee chaired by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Director of Planning Policy Ehud Prawer, who was tasked with devising ways to implement Goldberg`s recommendations. The Economic Development of the Bedouin Population in the Negev—a.k.a. the Prawer Report—proposed the immediate transfer to the state 50% of the already minute 2% of Naqab land claimed by the Bedouin, with minimal compensation and the demolition of 35 unrecognized villages. A bill recently introduced in the Israeli parliament proposes the resettlement of up to 40,000 inhabitants of dozens of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab to specially designated townships.
On 30 October 2011 the cabinet agreed to allow work to begin on 10 new Jewish settlements in the area to attract a new population to the Negev. The justification of the Israeli government for these actions is to close the gaps that exist in society and to integrate the Bedouin into the mainstream society. A protest strike was called in most of the Bedouin towns in the Negev last month and thousands joined a demonstration.
This case has recently received a notable amount of attention in the international press, with writers pointing out that this forced internal displacement could amount to Israel’s biggest removal of Arabs from the land since 1948. Bedouin structures, such as schools have been demolished, access to basic services is severely restricted, and settler harassment is a continual problem. Israel has even sued Bedouins for the cost of re-demolishing villages in the area, after the Bedouins rebuild them. They mostly live in areas that Israel declared as state land or on private land leased from Palestinians. Some have deeds showing they bought territory when Jordan was in control of the area between 1948 and 1967.
Revisiting the IFFM’s report emphasizes the continuing injustice and blatant violation of the human right to adequate housing is evident in the Israeli government’s actions. It also reminds that Israel, as a sovereign state in the international system, is a ratifying party to most of the international human rights treaties; at least 17 such pacts are relevant in the Naqab case. All human rights instruments prohibit states from discriminating in this way.
For instance, the principle in the context of unrecognized villages in the Naqab arises from the human right to adequate housing, guaranteed by treaty in its fundamental form bearing state obligations in article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966, a treaty that Israel ratified in 1991. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, include adequate housing (Article 11) and are inextricably tied to a bundle of socioeconomic and cultural rights, for the treaty-bound principles for implementing the right to adequate housing are self-determination, nondiscrimination, gender equality, rule of law, dedicating the maximum of available resources, nonregressivity and international cooperation in the process. The UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitoring ICESCR has affirmed the community rights of Bedouins, as has the Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, which monitors state compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Domestically, the State of Israeli has continually violated the constitutional right of families to housing, by submitting ex parte requests to the court to issue home demolition orders, in accordance with article 212 of the Planning and Building Law without the presence of, or hearing any of the affected parties. The constitutional right of families to housing is part of the Israeli constitutional right to dignity (Basic Law passed in 1992).
However, the Israeli government’s decision to appoint those responsible for the plan suggests it is in no way concerned about establishing a human-rights based statecraft, but instead regard the Bedouin of the Naqab as a demographic problem. The state also links them to security considers, as typically Israeli housing ministers are also veteran military commanders. Ehud Prawer, an ex colonel in the Israeli army and editor of its newspaper, was also prominent in the Immigration Absorption Ministry. However, even Prawer’s background and the oppressive nature of his commission’s conclusions were not satisfactory for the right wing of Israel’s government. Political pressure led to the appointment of the new National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror to revise the report. Among Amidrors less-controversial statements, he has proclaimed that, “The main lesson is that we must emphasize Israel`s security needs and its ability to defend itself over any other requirement…If we will have to choose between an agreement and Israel`s security requirements - security is preferable.” Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, a former chief of army intelligence during the 1996 bombing of Qana, Lebanon and the current minister of strategic affairs, is to enforce the revised Prawer plan. Yaalon, defying UN Security Council resolution 446, declared settler colonies in the West Bank should not be called “illegal,” and complained of bias toward Arabs in settlements, specifically giving the Naqab as an example.
These officials’ misreading of the Goldberg report and the obligations of state invokes both individual and state responsibility. Consequently, it is more important than ever to revisit The Goldberg Opportunity, and remind Israel, as a self-proclaimed democratic and developed state, of their responsibility to uphold the rights of all its citizens.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine delivered such a reminder to Israel in its November 2011 verdict. The international people’s peace and justice tribunal, meeting at Cape Town, South Africa, reviewed evidence and heard expert testimonies, including that of RCUV’s Jazi Abu Kaf and HIC-HLRN’s Joseph Schechla. The jurors concluded unanimously that the institutional discrimination practiced by Israel “subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalized regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law.”
With the benefit of The Goldberg Opportunity as a reference, CESCR completed its periodic review of Israel’s implementation of the ICESCR in December 2011. The Committee’s review gave particular attention to the Prawer recommendations and gave notice to Israel that implementing the plan should not result in forceful eviction. Instead, the Committee advised Israel that the State must ensure that any eviction be based on free, prior and informed consent, and that persons relocated be offered adequate levels of compensation. However, in contradiction to the Prawer plan evicting over 30,000 Arab citizens and current incremental practice, CESCR advised the State party also “to officially regulate the unrecognized villages, cease the demolition of buildings in those villages, and ensure the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing.”
 The Goldberg Opportunity: A Chance for Human Rights-based Statecraft in Israel (Cairo: HIC-HLRN, 2010), p. 7. Ibid, pp. 9–10
 Ibid, p. 59.
 Dr. Thabet Abus Ras, “Against a Forced Solution” op ed, Yediot Aharonot, 12 September 2011 (Hebrew), at: http://www.adalah.org/eng/pressreleases/pr.php?file=12_09_11_1.
 Harriet Sherwood, “Bedouin`s plight: `We want to maintain our traditions. But it`s a dream here`,” The Guardian (3 November 2011), at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/03/bedouin-plight-traditions-threat-israel. Additionally, by this internal forced displacement of the Bedouins, amounting to institutional discrimination, Israel is not fulfilling their obligations to their ratification of the ILO Rural Workers Organization’s convention No. 141 (1975), along with other conventions such as the 118 Equality of Treatment (Social Security) 1962 http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl?C118, Convention, and http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl?C117 C117 Social Policy (Basic Aims and Standards) Convention, 1962.
 “Adalah Files 45 Urgent Motions to Cancel Demolition Orders Issued against Almost All Homes in Unrecognized Arab Bedouin Village of al-Sura in the Naqab” press release, 8 August 2007, at: http://www.adalah.org/eng/pressreleases/pr.php?file=07_08_08.
 The agreement provided for continued responsibility by the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Organization for handling immigration up to the point of the immigrant’s entry into Israeli, whereupon the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption would take over (Korn, 2005:34)
 Ori Nir, “Yaakov Amidror - in his Own Words,” Americans for Peace Now (21 February 2011), at: http://peacenow.org/entries/yaakov_amidror_-_in_his_own_words.
 Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Israel, E/C.12/ISR/CO/3, 2 December 2011, para. 27.