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Israeli cabinet votes to rehouse desert Bedouins

Sept. 11, 2011 9:24 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 13, 2011 10:23 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The Israeli government on Sunday gave the go-ahead to a plan it said would improve the lot of Bedouin Arabs in the Negev desert, but rights groups complained it would uproot thousands forcefully.

A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said that the 1.2 billion shekel [$324 million] programme was meant to help Bedouins integrate with other Israelis.

"The plan is also designed to significantly reduce the economic and social gaps between the Bedouin population in the Negev and Israeli society as a whole," it said.

Around 160,000 Bedouins live in Israel, more than half of whom live in unrecognized villages in the Negev without municipal services like water and electricity. Many of the remainder also live in extreme poverty.

"Ownership claims over land will be dealt with in a unified and transparent method to be provided for by law and according to which compensation will be provided for in significant amounts of land and funds," the government statement said.

"Every land ownership claim by a claimant who holds land, the status of which will be fully provided for, will receive 50 percent of the claim, as opposed to the 20 percent being currently offered," it said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Binkom, which advocates fair planning policies, said the Bedouins had not been consulted by the government.

A joint statement said that Sunday's cabinet ruling "authorizes the uprooting of 30,000 Bedouin from their homes and allows for the continued discrimination and neglect of the Bedouin communities of the Negev."

The Israel office of Britain-based Amnesty International said the plan "includes the forceful evacuation of thousands of Bedouins from their homes," and called it "a significant blow to the Bedouins' right to adequate accommodation."
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