For over 16 years, AFSI (Americans for a Safe Israel) has led semi-annual Chizuk (strength) missions to Israel concentrating on the threatened areas of the country. Last week the 30 plus people on the November mission, led by Helen Freedman, wanted to understand better what was going on in the Negev. I was priviledged to be able to present to the group at the Leonardo hotel in Beersheva Thursday evening and then take them for a tour of the Northern Negev.
Our first stop after leaving Beersheva was Al Zarnog, there participants saw a Bedouin village built illegally on private Jewish land. Once we entered the village, not only did the participants see the village close up but they understood that the government had aslo built a school and clinic on this private land, in effect condoning such illegal behaviour. They heard of Regavim's efforts in the Beershava courts to have justice served for the Jewish owners of the land.
The trip then continued on the road to Arad where literally throughout the whole journey, illegal village after illegal village were seen on both sides of the road. Heading North we skirted around the Nevatim Airforce base where again the participants were suprised to see illegal Bedouin homes built right up to the base fence.
We continued to Al-Sayyid a town which is one of the 10 towns that make up the Abu Basma regional council. In Al-Sayyid we headed off the main road and saw not the small modest homes seen from the main road but massive, fancy homes no one expected to see. There the participants also heard of the efforts of Regavim to ensure the law is enforced and examples of illegal building and efforts to make irrelevant town plans where witnessed.
From there we headed to Hura, one of the 7 Bedouin cities established by the State of Israel in the 70's & 80's. After seeing the large new Mosques being built, not in the traditional Bedouin style, the discussion turned to the Islamification occuring within the Bedouin community and the image of the Dome of the Rock above all new houses being built there as a sign of this radicalization.
The last stop was Lakia. Another of the 7 Bedouin cities, however here the Al-Sana clan (yes MK Taled Al-Sana's family) still will not relinquish their land claims, even though the court ruled them invalid and the Al Sana clan signed over these claims to Israel for which they received large compensation. As such a town that was built for 35,000 people has 7,000 residents (all from the Al-Sana clan).
The response of the participants was incredible and I reassured them that, due to Regavim's efforts we are starting to see the Government, law courts and law enforcement dealing more effectively with their responsibilities.
Regavim is happy to conduct private or group tours to any and all places in Israel to expose the challenges Israel faces, the scope of the problem and proposed solutions.