The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has recently begun to implement a new policy of obliging Arab Bedouin farmers in the Naqab (Negev) in the south of Israel to provide statements from the tax authorities as a condition for obtaining pastureland for grazing cattle and for sufficient drinking water allowances for their animals. As a result, cattle farmers have been forced to open files with the tax authorities and to pay duties for their cattle, even if they are not raising them in order to make a profit from them. This step forms part of a general policy adopted by the MOA of harassing Arab Bedouin cattle farmers in the Naqab. For example, the ministry is refusing to lease pastureland to camel farmers and to recognize camel-rearing as an official branch of agriculture.
On 22 February 2009, Adalah Attorney Morad el-Sana sent an urgent letter on behalf of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab (RCUV) to the MOA’s southern division demanding that the implementation of this policy be delayed for several years in order to allow cattle farmers to prepare themselves without incurring huge financial losses.
Attorney el-Sana argued that the sudden application of the new policy is forcing the majority of cattle herd owners to get rid of their cattle, which will have a severe, damaging impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of Arab Bedouin families in the Naqab. Furthermore, it will violate the rights of cattle herd owners to property and other constitutional rights, in particular given that the MOA has not previously imposed these conditions and since the impact of the new policy was not seriously considered.
Adalah further argued that the MOA does not have the authority to compel an individual to open a tax file; this authority lies solely with the Minister of Finance and the Knesset’s Finance Committee. Adalah stressed that this policy is being applied without distinction to all cattle farmers, regardless of whether they make a profit from their farming activities or whether they farm for their families’ own personal consumption. This condition is illegal and illogical as the raising of cattle for non-profit making reasons is exempt from taxes.
In the letter, Adalah emphasized that it was not demanding that cattle farmers be made totally exempt from paying taxes, but that they be exempted for a sufficient period to allow them to make preparations for the implementation of the new policy without incurring massive losses. Adalah further underlined the fact that cattle rearing is a cultural and traditional activity of the Arab Bedouin.
The Letter (Hebrew)