The FCO's human rights work in 2013 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

5  Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories


46. The Government is clear that it has serious reservations about the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). In the 2013 Report, which was published before the conflict took place in Gaza in July and August 2014, the FCO listed as its concerns:

·  Continued violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by Israel in context of its occupation of the OPTs;

·  Breaches of human rights in Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled parts of the West Bank and, particularly, under de facto Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip;

·  Use of the death penalty by de facto authorities in Gaza;

·  Mistreatment of detainees by the Israeli authorities, and by PA security forces, and by Hamas in Gaza;

·  The use of excessive force by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Palestinian protesters within the OPTs;

·  Harassment of Palestinian human rights defenders by Israeli forces;

·  Continued demolition of Palestinian structures that were built without permit in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and

·  Suppression of women's rights in Gaza.[88]

47. The September 2014 quarterly update on Israel and the OPTs provided analysis on the recent conflict in Gaza and on the human rights situation in the country more generally. The FCO reported in the update that 2,131 Palestinians, of whom 1,473 were identified as civilians, and 72 Israelis, of whom four were identified as civilians, were killed during the conflict.[89] The update also highlighted the expropriation of 988 acres of land by the Israeli Government around the settlement of Etzion near Bethlehem. The then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated on 23 July that "there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes". She also condemned Hamas for "indiscriminate attacks" on civilian areas.[90] On 1 September, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House setting out the Government's position on the conflict and the expropriation of land:

    The loss of life this summer has been truly appalling and the number of civilian casualties completely unacceptable—the life of a Palestinian child is worth the same as that of a child of any one of our nations—but support for a lasting settlement that includes a Palestinian state does not mean we should ever support the terrorist tactics of Hamas, which has rained down rockets on Israel and continually refused to accept ceasefires.

    We will continue to support Israel and Israel's right to defend itself, but that does not mean we support every decision the Israeli Government take. Most recently, the appropriation of nearly 1,000 acres of land in the west bank near Bethlehem is utterly deplorable. Settlements are illegal under international law and will do nothing to create the kind of peace process we all want, and we urge the Israeli Government to reverse this decision.[91]

We echo the views of the Prime Minister.


48. The 2013 Report also commented on the treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev region of Israel; this was a subject on which we received a number of written submissions. Bedouin tribes, mainly as semi-nomadic pastoralists, have inhabited the Negev region of Israel for centuries.[92] Since the sixteenth century the Bedouin have been governed by a series of different regimes: the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and the Israeli state. All have tried policies to integrate nomadic and semi-nomadic Bedouin populations into sedentary society, but have been met with resistance from the Bedouin.

49. Following the establishment of the state of Israel, the estimated 11,000 Bedouins that remained in Israel after the 1948 war were resettled from their 'native lands' into a 'closed area' located in the northern and central Negev. Bedouins were not allowed to live outside this area until military rule ended in 1966.[93] The Knesset passed legislation in 1953 which determined that "any land not found in its owners' right in April 1952 will be made public" and that the Bedouin would "lose all rights on their lands outside their living area".[94] Israel started a process of state-planned urbanisation after the end of military rule to settle the Bedouin into permanent urban centres. Dr Hilary Tyrrell, a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, claimed in a written submission to our inquiry that the Bedouin are the "most disadvantaged citizens in Israel".[95] Over half of the 190,000 Negev Bedouins today live in seven government-controlled towns and the remainder live in villages that are not recognised by the government. Dr Tyrrell said that these 'unrecognised villages' are deprived of basic services such as housing, water, electricity, education and health care.[96]


50. 'Unrecognised villages' are, in part, a consequence of the conflict between the Israeli authorities and Bedouin community over land ownership and historic indigenous Bedouin rights.[97] A series of attempts have been made to resolve this conflict over the last 50 years. The most recent attempt started with the setting-up of the Goldberg Commission[98] in December 2007, which was given the task of 'finalising' the status of Bedouin land claims in the Negev.[99] The Goldberg Commission submitted a report proposing that some Bedouin villages should be recognised.[100] In January 2009, a team headed by Ehud Prawer started work to implement the Goldberg recommendations, but this work was stalled after the proposals were rejected by representatives of the Bedouin and by certain members of the Knesset. Following a consultation process led by minister without portfolio Benny Begin, a modified plan was introduced in the Knesset in June 2013.

51. Dr Philip Nixon, a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, told us that the 'Prawer-Begin' Bill would mean that 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin stood to be "forcibly evicted from their homes".[101] The treatment of the Bedouin has been said to be discriminatory because the overall plan for the region failed to recognise the Bedouin's historic claims to the land and because the compensation offered to dispossessed Bedouin is less than that offered to Israeli Jews in similar circumstances.[102] The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights urged the Israeli Government to reconsider the bill and hold genuine consultations with all Bedouin communities in the Negev.[103] Adalah Legal Center[104] reported that although the legislation had been halted, demolitions of Bedouin homes in the Negev remained a "daily reality", and the state continued to approve and implement its development projects on top of Bedouin villages.[105] Israel has claimed that the current plan is to ensure Bedouins live on land they legally own, and that those who could not stay where they were would be offered "ample compensation".[106] According to Israel, "no modern society accepts traditional nomadic concepts of land ownership".[107]


52. Baroness Warsi told us that the British Government policy was to "follow the debate around the issue of unresolved Bedouin land claims and unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev" and "urge further dialogue between the Israeli authorities and Bedouin communities".[108] The UK has archival records that could provide objective and useful information to both parties about how the land in the Negev region was used during the British Mandatory Period, and just before the establishment of the state of Israel. This could aid negotiations between both parties. We believe the British Government should play a more prominent part in helping to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Bedouin community, and should use its standing with the Israeli government and the Bedouin community to promote a peaceful, negotiated settlement.

88   FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report, Cm 8870, April 2014, pages 225-231 Back

89   FCO, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) - Country of Concern: latest update, 30 September 2014, Back

90   "Human Rights Council 21st Special Session: Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem", OHCHR website, Back

91   HC Deb, 1 September 2014, col 23 [Commons Chamber] Back

92   Edited by Mansour Nasasra, Sophie Richter-Devroe, Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder, Richard Ratcliffe, The Naqab Bedouin and Colonialism, (London, 2015), p 39 Back

93   Ghazi Falah, "Israeli State Policy toward Bedouin Sedentarization in the Negev", Journal of Palestine Studies, vol 18 (1989), p 71-91 Back

94   "Bedouins in the State of Israel", Israeli Knesset webpages, Back

95   Memorandum from Dr Hilary Tyrrell  Back

96   Ibid. Back

97   Edited by Mansour Nasasra, Sophie Richter-Devroe, Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder, Richard Ratcliffe, The Naqab Bedouin and Colonialism, (London, 2015), p 49 Back

98   The Goldberg Commission was set up by the Israeli Government in December 2007. The Commission was chaired by former State Comptroller and retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, to make recommendations regarding Bedouin property rights and their communities in the Negev. Back

99   Edited by Mansour Nasasra, Sophie Richter-Devroe, Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder, Richard Ratcliffe, The Naqab Bedouin and Colonialism, (London, 2015), p 50  Back

100   Ibid.  Back

101   Memorandum from Dr Philip Nixon, paragraph 9.2  Back

102   The Prawer-Begin Plan, Standard Note SNIA/6733, House of Commons Library, December 2013 Back

103   "Pillay urges Israel to reconsider proposed bill that will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin", OHCHR press release, 25 July 2013, Back

104   Adalah Legal Center is an independent human rights organization and legal center that was established in November 1996. Its website says that it works to promote and defend the rights of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Adalah submitted written evidence to the Committee for this inquiry. Back

105   "While Prawer is Frozen", Adalah Legal Center, 15 May 2014, Back

106   BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre describes itself as an independent British organisation dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain. "Israel's policy on the Negev Bedouin, an interview with Mark Regev", BICOM, 1 December 2013, Back

107   Ibid. Back

108   Memorandum from FCO (HRS0034) Back

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Prepared 27 November 2014