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Regavim (NGO)

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Regavim (רגבים) is a pro-settler Israeli NGO that monitors and pursues legal action in the Israeli court system against any construction lacking Israeli permits undertaken by Palestinians or Bedouins in Israel and in the West Bank.[1] It sees its own mission as one of ensuring "responsible, legal, accountable and environmentally friendly use of Israel's national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation".[2]

It was founded in 2006 by Yehuda Eliahu and Bezalel Smotrich[3][4] as "response to a Supreme Court case against the illegal outpost of Harasha in Samaria" initiated by Peace Now in 2005.[4]

Regavim focuses most intensely on construction work in the Galilee, Negev, and the West Bank.[5] Regavim's objectives converge with those of Israeli settlers, with whom the group maintains close institutional ties.[6] Regavim is financed by public funds from West Bank local settlement councils and from the settler organization Amana.

Origins

According to Neve Gordon and Nocola Perugina, Regavim was founded as a settler-rights NGO.[7] Perugini asserts that Regavim's objectives converge with those of Israeli settlers, with whom the group maintains close institutional ties.[6] According to Gordon and Perugini, purpose was to counteract what its founders considered to be the improper use by "liberal" NGOs to "subvert" Israeli democracy by using the legal system to pursue advocacy of human rights when the left failed to achieve electoral success. According to Dror Etges, former Director of the Peace Now program, Settlement Watch, Regavim was not only conceived as a response to the work of anti-settlement NGOs, it was modeled directly on Settlement Watch and Yesh Din.[8] This recourse to rights advocacy is dismissed as "undemocratic lawfare" by Neve Gordon.[9] According to Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini, settler rights NGOs like Regavim turn the relationship of oppressed and oppressor on its head, in transforming dispossession as a human right.[10] Regavim is financed by public funds from West Bank local settlement councils, and according to the last available public statement of accounts, received more than 2 million shekels ($550,000) of funding in 2010, a sixfold rise over 2008.[3] Regavim also receives funds from the settler organization Amana.[11]

Name

The name, Regavim, lit. "patches of soil", is taken from the Hebrew word regev, meaning a very small piece of land, a word used in a Zionist poem about reclaiming the Land of Israel, "dunam by dunam, regev by regev".[5] (A dunam is 0.1 hectare, about 0.247 acres.)

Aims and activities

Regavim focuses most intensely on construction work in the Galilee, Negev, and the West Bank that has been done by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians without Israeli permits.[5] Regavim has also directly petitioned against government removal of settler outposts. It has also petitioned successfully to stop Israeli demolition orders against settler homes, as in the case of Har Bracha in April 2010, and Migron.[3] According to its director Ari Briggs, the courts and Civil Administration are often slow to act against "illegal Palestinian construction activity", and Regavim files lawsuits to prod the courts to issue demolition orders.[12] After Yesh Din successfully petitioned the state to force settlers in the illegal Israeli outpost of El Matan to seal an unauthorized synagogue, Regavim retaliated by petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to have a mosque, still under construction and serving 400 worshippers in Al Mufaqara, bulldozed in the West Bank on the grounds it was in Area C. Their suit was successful.[13][14][15]

Regavim argues that the Jewish people are "being robbed of the Land of Israel ... ever so quietly without the roar of battle and the clamor of war"[16] Regavim appears to mirror the practices of human rights organizations like Yesh Din, which appeal to the courts on behalf on Palestinian communities, with the difference that for Regavim, all of Israel and the Palestinian territories is "national land" and Palestinian habitation is an "illegal overtaking" of that land, it systematically inverts the terms of human rights language, by designating Jewish settlements as legal, and Palestinians under the Israeli occupation as "trespassers"[3] engaged in illegal occupation, settlement, and outpost construction.[16][6] By using a network of settlers to scout, photograph and report on Palestinian construction,[6] it monitors and then reports on constructions by Palestinians that lack full Israeli legal permits, and prosecutes cases of such construction through the judicial system.[5]

Peter Beaumont cites its aim as one of preventing "foreign elements from taking over the countries [sic] territorial resources", pursuing cases in areas[17] beyond Israel into territory occupied by Israel in 1967.[18]

In September 2011, Regavim submitted a petition to the ICC urging it to revoke the decision to receive the Palestinian Authority's declaration of recognizing the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction, which was a gentle attempt by PA for statehood recognition. In April 2012 the ICC prosecutor turned down the request by the PA for a probe into accusations of Israeli war crimes in Gaza War (2008–09), stating that it had no jurisdiction over unrecognized states.[19][20]

Protecting nature preserves

Regavim monitors and reports on the violation of nature reserves for construction, roads and other development at Mt. Meron and elsewhere.[21] According to Rabbis for Human Rights some of these nature reserves in the Negev are declared in order to block Bedouins from using the land, and precedents exist for transforming reserves to future Jewish construction.[22] Regavim, however, calls the Bedouin settlements, "a silent conquest", of land by means of illegal construction funded from abroad.[23]

The organization sued the Druze town of Majdal Shams for illegal construction inside the Mt. Hermon nature reserve.[24]

Accusations against the European Union in illegal construction

In February 2015 Regavim released a report[25] documenting the construction of houses funded by the British charity Oxfam and the European Union. The same material claimed that the European Union was subsidizing illegal housing in Area C of the West Bank, which according to Oslo Accords is under interim Israeli jurisdiction. Israeli international law expert Alan Baker, who took part in the Oslo Accords' creation, said that "EU is ignoring international law and taking concrete steps to influence the facts on the ground". Similar opinions were expressed by Eugene Kontorovich[26] and by MEPs as James Carver (Britain) and Michael Theurer (de) (Germany).[27][28][29]

Oxfam defended its funding of construction, stating that it had undertaken the activity on "humanitarian grounds". EU spokesman in the West Bank, Shadi Othman, admitted that EU-Oxfam "unauthorised construction was taking place", justifying it on the grounds that Area C forms part of "the occupied Palestinian territory that eventually will be Palestinian land", claiming that Palestinians have a right to live, build schools, and develop projects there. Furthermore, Othman added, Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory are both "illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace", and said that approximately 97% of Palestinian permit applications for building in the West Bank have been rejected by the Israeli administration.[27]

As a result of report's publication, "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to move forward with a plan to demolish some 400 Palestinian structures built in the West Bank with European funding."[29] The first such building was demolished in March 2015 on Mt. Scopus near Hebrew University[30]

Bedouins

Regavim files law suits to block illegal Bedouin construction in the Negev and elsewhere.[4][23]

Regavim calls the Bedouin settlements, "a silent conquest", of land by means of illegal construction funded from abroad.[23] Regavim claims the Bedouin tribes of the Negev fail the definition of indigenous peoples since, according to Regavim:

  1. They aren't the "Original Peoples" of the region.
  2. They have no long-standing presence as Ottoman records from late 16th century doesn't mention the current Negev tribes.
  3. They never had sovereignty over the area.
  4. The demand for land ownership that allows for selling it is contrary to a spiritual connection to the territory.

The UN recognition of the Negev Bedouins is regarded by Regavim as questionable since no other Bedouin tribes in the Middle East made the indigenous claim. As a result, members of the same tribe may or may not be considered indigenous, depends on which side of the border they live.[31][page needed] Moreover, many Bedouin families are recent immigrants to the Negev.[23]

Regavim argues that the Palestinian Bedouin are trying to take over the area. Their argument is based on Israeli definitions of what are "residential areas", of which the Bedouin, though constituting 30% of the Negev population, claim only 21%, in agricultural areas or a total of 5.4% of the Negev. The contemporary Bedouin claims in the Negev are, according to Rabbis for Human Rights, much less than what the Zionist "Israel Land Development Company" determined to be under Bedouin ownership in 1920.[22] Regavim contests in courts Bedouin ownership of land, though Zionists prior to the establishment of the state of Israel recognized both their indigenous status and their land ownership system. To "prove" historic Bedouin villages did not exist, Regavim uses aerial photographs from 1945 that Regavim says do not reveal the presence of such villages, ignoring, according to Rabbis for Human Rights, the fact that Bedouins used mud hunts or tents whose colour blended with that of the landscape, and, they argue, not visible on low resolution black-and-white aerial photographs. Furthermore, according to Rabbis for Human Rights, the Regavim evidence ignores British maps that demonstrate the villages' existence.[22]

Criticism

Critics claim that Regavim's objectives converge with those of Israeli settlers, with whom the group maintains close institutional ties.[32]

Critics argue that Regavim aims to "try to force the state to speed up and increase the execution of home demolition orders and forced relocations of non-Jews, be they of Palestinians in the West Bank or Bedouin in the Negev".[12] Critics described it as a "settler-colonial NGO".[16]

Neve Gordon describes Regavim as a "settler-colonial NGO" and denounces its "strategy of mirroring" in picturing Palestinian villages as "outposts" or Palestinian presence in the West Bank as a "kind of illegal occupation".[16] Critics argue that Regavim aims to "try to force the state to speed up and increase the execution of home demolition orders and forced relocations of non-Jews, be they of Palestinians in the West Bank or Bedouin in the Negev".[12]

According to Nicola Perugini and others, the word "land" here refers to "Jewish national land",[16] and by that term Regavim understands the entirety of Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies, in which Palestinian habitation is considered an illegal takeover.[6]

Regavim has been described by Nicola Perugini and Kareem Rabie asn embodying a new type of political activism by the Israeli far right that "uses liberal techniques of struggle for the extension of an exclusivist Zionist agenda".[6]

According to Charlotte Alfred, it was reported that several Regavim leaders themselves dwell in either Israeli settlements in the West Bank (Bezalel Smotrich in Kedumim) or in Israeli outposts built without Israeli official authorization, such as Yehuda Eliyahu at Haresha, and lawyer Doron Nir Tsvi in the Havat Yair outpost.[3]

Buildings on private Palestinian land

In May 2015, Regavim provided a study to Knesset members, who are working towards legislation to expropriate private land from Palestinians in return for compensation. According to it, 2,026 structures are built on private Palestinian land in 26 settlements in the West Bank. When the details from this own study were revealed, Regavim replied in a public statement that

It is irresponsible to publish data that appears in the report; any discussion on this sensitive issue should be conducted with appropriate discretion in the proper forum. Regavim has presented its stance on this issue to the officials relevant in finding a solution for the complex situation that has arisen in these places.[33]

References

  1. ^ Ariel David (19 June 2016). "Why is an Israeli pro-settler group campaigning for Brexit?". Haaretz. partially funded by local authorities in Israel. According to a Haaretz investigation published in January, Regavim does receive funds from local Israeli institutions in addition to private donations. Like all Israeli NGOs, Regavim must submit its yearly financial statements to Israel's registrar of nonprofit organizations. A review of these reports showed that from 2006 to 2014, the group received nearly 20 million shekels (around $5.1 million at current exchange rates) in donations and other financial support, most of it from public funds. According to the reports, between 2010 and 2014 Regavim received nearly 11 million shekels from various government bodies — primarily local councils, which in turn receive state funding.
  2. ^ "About Regavim". Regavim. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Charlotte Alfred; Abdul-Hakim Salah (9 May 2012). "Settler group patrols West Bank for demolition targets". Ma'an News Agency.
  4. ^ a b c Miller, Elhanan (1 May 2015). "Tracking illegal Arab construction, one EU-funded house at a time". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 26 August 2015. Regavim, the right-wing equivalent of Peace Now, says Europe is using an impoverished Bedouin population to create political facts on the ground... Regavim – Israel Independence Fund was founded in 2006 by newly elected Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and Yehuda Eliyahu in response to a September 2005 Supreme Court case brought by Peace Now against the illegal outpost of Harasha in Samaria.
  5. ^ a b c d Traiman, Alex (9 June 2013). "NGO counters illegal Palestinian and Arab building amid global focus on Jewish construction". Jewish News Service. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Nicola Perugini; Kareem Rabie (2012). "Human Right to the Colony". In Tammaso Sbriccoli; Stefano Jacoviello. Shifting Borders: European Perspectives on Creolisation. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 9781443844420.
  7. ^ Nicola Perugini; Neve Gordon (2015). The Human Right to Dominate. Oxford University Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780199365036.
  8. ^ Fleish, Eric (19 May 2014). Israeli NGOs and American Jewish Donors: The Structures and Dynamics of Power Sharing in a New Philanthropic Era (Ph.D. thesis). Brandeis University. p. 245. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  9. ^ Nicola Perugini; Neve Gordon (2015). The Human Right to Dominate. Oxford University Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 9780199365036.
  10. ^ Nicola Perugini; Neve Gordon (2015). The Human Right to Dominate. Oxford University Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780199365036. Within this context of convergence and mirroring, settler colonial NGOs like Regavim invert the historical asymmetry in which they operate and produce the frfamework of justice they rely on. The inversion—such as the indigenous being transformed into a settler and vice versa-is a political product of the mirroring.... In the human rights struggles waged by settler NGOs, mirroring becomes inverting.: Jewish settlements become Palestinian settlements; "illegal Jewish construction" becomes "illegal Palestinian construction"; Palestinian villages become "Palestinian outposts", transforming Palestinian presence and existence into a kind of illegal occupation. Human rights become a weapon for further indigenous displacement.
  11. ^ Chaim Levinson (27 April 2014). "Israel Seeks to Demolish Palestinian Village on Archaeological Grounds". Haaretz.
  12. ^ a b c Ilene Prusher (4 August 2015). "The Susya: Next Outrage in the Israeli-Palestinian Dance of Build-and-destroy". Haaretz.(subscription required)
  13. ^ Amira Hass (10 December 2012). "'You Have to Demolish Them While They're Small'". Haaretz.(subscription required)
  14. ^ Nicola Perugini; Neve Gordon (2015). The Human Right to Dominate. Oxford University Press. p. 166. ISBN 9780199365036. n. 43.
  15. ^ Tovah Lazaroff (21 February 2011). "Court to debate sealing mosque in West Bank village Burin". The Jerusalem Post.
  16. ^ a b c d e Nicola Perugini; Neve Gordon (2015). The Human Right to Dominate. Oxford University Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780199365036.
  17. ^ Khirbet Susya according to Beaumont
  18. ^ Beaumont, Peter (6 June 2015). "Israeli rights groups join battle to save symbol of Arab resistance to evictions". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  19. ^ Joanna Paraszczuk (3 April 2012). "ICC: No Cast Lead probe as PA not a state". The Jerusalem Post.
  20. ^ Simons, Marlise (3 April 2012). "Court Rejects Palestinians in Their Bid for a Tribunal". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  21. ^ "Illegal Building at Mt. Meron Nature Reserve". MZFoundation. Retrieved 18 August 2015.[dead link]
  22. ^ a b c "Get the Facts: A Distorted Report Provides Backing to the Government's Denial of Bedouin Rights". Rabbis for Human Rights. 21 November 2013.
  23. ^ a b c d Stackelbeck, Erick (1 July 2013). "Israel Biblical Lands Target of 'Agricultural Jihad'". Christian Broadcasting Network. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  24. ^ Yellin, Avi (22 November 2009). "Regavim: Stop the destruction of Mount Hermon". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  25. ^ "Illegal EU Building in Adumim Region" (PDF). Regavim. February 2015.
  26. ^ "Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law". Northwestern | Pritzker School of Law.
  27. ^ a b Jake Wallis Simons (5 February 2015). "European Union is 'breaking international law by funding illegal West Bank building projects". Daily Mail.
    • "Professor Eugene Kontorovich, an international lawyer from the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, said, "There's no question, the EU is openly in violation of international law."
    • "James Carver, a British ME, wrote a strongly-worded letter to the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs. 'The structures all bear the name and flag of the EU and official EU agents have been photographed participating in overseeing the construction, so the active involvement of the EU can hardly be denied,' ... 'I kindly call upon you to do your utmost to bring an end to these illegal and destructive activities'"
    • "Michael Theurer, a German MEP who is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, shares his concerns. 'I am taking these allegations seriously and will thoroughly investigate them'"
  28. ^ Keinon, Herb; Lazaroff, Tovah (5 February 2015). "Report: EU building hundreds of illegal structures for Palestinians in Area C of West Bank". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 27 August 2015. James Carver ... wrote, 'EU member states would not allow such behavior within their own borders, nor would the EU endorse or find it anywhere within the European Union. So why would the EU do so outside its borders?' Secondly, he wrote, the buildings contravene the Oslo Accords, which give Israel full administrative responsibility and authority over Area C. 'Any building constructed without such permit is illegal, and by endorsing such acts by the Palestinians, the EU is participating in a violation of the Oslo II Agreement.'
  29. ^ a b Jalil, Justin (6 February 2015). "PM orders demolition of EU-funded Palestinian 'settlements' in West Bank". The Times of Israel. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  30. ^ Eisenbud, Daniel K. (11 March 2015). "Illegally constructed EU building razed on Mt. Scopus near Hebrew University". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  31. ^ "The Truth About The Bedouin in the Negev" (PDF). Regavim.
  32. ^ Nicola Perugini; Kareem Rabie (2012). "Human Right to the Colony". In Tammaso Sbriccoli; Stefano Jacoviello. Shifting Borders: European Perspectives on Creolisation. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 9781443844420., pp. 35–55, p. 116.
  33. ^ Chaim Levinson (3 May 2015). "2,026 Settlement Homes Built on Private Palestinian Land, Right-wing Study Finds". Haaretz. In response to inquiries, Regavim issued a statement that read 'it is irresponsible to publish data that appears in the report; any discussion on this sensitive issue should be conducted with appropriate discretion in the proper forum. Regavim has presented its stance on this issue to the officials relevant in finding a solution for the complex situation that has arisen in these places.'

External links