30 December 2011

Adalah & Bimkom Demand Cancellation of Yatir Forest Plan in the Naqab

(Beer el-Sabe, Israel) On 21 December 2011, Adalah and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights in Israel submitted an objection to the District Committee for Planning and Building - Southern District on behalf of dozens of Arab Bedouin residents of the unrecognized village of Atir to cancel the "Yatir Forest Plan" (264/03/11). This plan seeks to evacuate the villagers, who are citizens of Israel, destroy their homes, and then to plant a forest on the ruins of the village. The objectors demanded that the District Committee reject the plan and order the planners to revise it, taking into account the existence of the Arab Bedouin living in the area and respecting their constitutional rights. Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara and Urban Planner Cesar Yahudkin filed the objection.

The proposed plan, which was initiated by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), seeks to establish a new forest over part of the village whose inhabitants have lived there for decades. According to the plan, the area is uninhabited, despite the presence of around 500 Arab Bedouin residents and their homes; this situation was not reflected at all in the plan. The failure of the state planning authorities is very serious, as their decision-making processes are based on totally inaccurate facts which would result in the evacuation of a village and the destruction of citizens' homes. The obvious conclusion is that the plan prefers to uproot an entire village of hundreds of residents to plant trees in their place.

Notably, the researcher Talma Duchan, Esq., who was appointed to discuss the objections to the plan for Metropolitan Beer Sheva (Beer el-Sabe) recommended to give official recognition to the village. This recommendation was adopted by the Special Committee for Principal Planning Matters (Valnata) on July 2010. A draft plan to change the state proposed blueprint for Metropolitan Beer Sheva was prepared. In November 2010, however, following a request by the Prime Minister's Office for reconsideration, the Committee withdrew from that decision and dismissed the recognition.

The proposed plan violates the citizens' constitutional rights to property, dignity and equality. The plan should also be viewed in light of dozens of cases pending before the Magistrates' Court and District Court in Beer Sheva to evacuate the residents. The villagers were moved to the area where they live today by the state authorities in the 1950s. The objectors argued that there is no moral or legal reason to forest this area. The proposed plan is typical of 'dark regimes' that do not consider human dignity and other constitutional rights; planting trees in this case is the equivalent of the de-humanization of the people.

Background: About 500 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, all from the Abu el-Qian tribe, live in the unrecognized village of Atir. Atir was founded around 55 years ago. Until 1948, and for decades, the tribe lived in Wadi Zubaleh (now assigned to Kibbutz Shoval). In 1948, the military government asked the tribe to leave their lands and move to the area of Khirbet El Huzeil, and in 1956, when they tried to return, they were forbidden to do so. Instead, the military government required them to settle permanently in an area known today as the Yatir Forest.