Israel has been gradually stripping thousands of Palestinian Bedouins from various villages in the southern Negev region of their citizenship status, claiming that they had been granted nationality in error – a move residents and legislators say is part of a state plan to do away with the minority population.
Although Israel has employed the revocation policy for more than two decades, Knesset Member Aida Touma-Suleiman of the Joint List says it has since 2010 become an increasingly “widespread phenomenon” that is in clear violation of Israel’s Citizenship Law.
“I found out about this [policy, implemented by the interior ministry] by chance during a site visit to one of the villages in the Negev – I was approached by some individuals who informed me of their dilemma,” Touma-Suleiman, who has been researching the policy and its effects for more than a year, told Al Jazeera.
Bedouins who approach the Israeli Ministry of Interior for routine procedures to renew passports or issue new ones are informed on the spot that they are not citizens of state – despite being born in Israel and having lived there their whole lives. Residents say the policy is applied arbitrarily.
There are at least 200,000 Bedouins living in Israel, but are mainly centred in the country’s southern region.
According to Touma-Suleiman, representatives of the interior ministry had pointed out during an urgent Knesset meeting, that the policy is in place to correct a “state error” dating back to 1951 – three years after the establishment of the State of Israel. In their response to Touma-Suleiman, the ministry said that Palestinians were required to register themselves under a population registry between 1948 and 1951.
But for a period of 17 years, Palestinian Bedouin villages and towns were declared closed military zones when Israel declared itself a state in 1948, making it impossible for residents to leave these areas without a permit.
And due to the military rule that was in place, many of the residents at the time were unaware of the registration requirement.
The ministry claims that there are “2,600 Arabs” whose citizenships have either already been revoked, or are under threat of revocation, according to Touma-Suleiman.
“I think that the number is much higher than this,” she said, adding the policy is clearly targeting the Bedouin community in specific.
“They [Bedouins] already reside in unrecognised villages – when you deny them living rights, you deny them the right to exist in that area.”
For decades, Israeli authorities have been regularly carrying out home demolition orders in the Negev, claiming that villages lack necessary building permits, which residents say are impossible to obtain. Instead, Jewish-only towns have been encroaching on Palestinian lands, forcing families out of the areas.
Those who remain have no access to basic infrastructure or development opportunities. To date, some 40 unrecognised Bedouin villages – tens of thousands of Palestinian homes – are under existential threat in southern Israel.
“When they strip them of their citizenship, they are ultimately stripping them of their only remaining weapon [their rights as citizens – used to fight against forced evictions],” Touma-Suleiman explained.