Abolish Law Allowing State to Postpone Elections in Bedouin Council

ACRI, Adalah claim in High Court petition that Interior Ministry overrode its authority, is trampling democratic values

Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) as well as seven other organizations and local residents petitioned the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, April 27, to abolish the “Abu Basma Law” – an amendment to a law allowing the Interior Minister to postpone indefinitely democratic elections in new regional councils, but specifically relating to the case of the Abu Basma Regional Council. The petition demands that the Court instruct the Interior Minister to facilitate elections for the regional council, comprised of recently recognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, immediately.

Even though the council is six years old, it is still being administered by an appointed representative of the Interior Minister, not by elected representatives of the community.

The Abu Basma Regional Council was established in 2003, the result of a long and ongoing struggle for the State to recognize Bedouin villages in the Negev. To date, close to 50 Bedouin villages remain unrecognized, therefore lacking the most basic services such as electricity, schools, paved roads, and running water. For more information about the Negev Bedouin, read this fact sheet.

The Abu Basma Regional Council consists of 10 villages and 30,000 official residents but also provides welfare, education, and environmental protection services to 40,000 residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in its immediate proximity.

The law represents a grave infringement on democratic values and the specific obligation Israel holds to ensuring regular and transparent democratic elections, including giving advance notice to constituents. Though the law adopts very vague language addressing elections in “new regional councils”, it’s clear that its only purpose is to thwart elections in the Abu Basma Regional Council.

“The Interior Ministry is trampling on the most basic principles of democracy and equality,” said Attorney Alaa Mahajneh of Adalah, who co-wrote the petition. “Instead of assisting in the execution of elections, it worked to prevent them. It’s hard to believe anyone would dare prevent elections in another regional council.”

“In a democratic state, it is not acceptable to legislate a law that bestows the exclusive and wide-ranging authority to postpone elections indefinitely,” said ACRI Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, who co-wrote the petition. “We thought this was obvious, but apparently we were wrong.”

Before the “Abu Basma Law” was amended, the Regional Councils Law stated the election of a first council must happen within four years of its founding. The law allows for the Interior Minister to delay elections – only in exceptional cases – for a maximum of two years.

However, in the case of Abu Basma, the Interior Ministry did not uphold its legal obligations and didn’t prepare for elections in the required timeline; on the contrary, it even worked to prevent the elections from taking place. When the initial four-year period was coming to an end, the Ministry delayed elections for a year, and they were set to be held in December 2008. Thereafter, the Interior Ministry requested another one-year extension from the Knesset Committee, and the elections were postponed until December 8, 2009. However, when that date approached, instead of preparing for elections, the Ministry worked to pass the amendment to the Regional Councils Law in November 2009, and allowed the elections to be postponed indefinitely.

In addition to ACRI and Adalah, the petitioners include residents of the Abu Basma Regional Council, public figures, the Council of Arab Mayors, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civic Equality, the Ma’an Forum, the Forum for Arab Education in the Negev, and the Israel Religious Action Center.

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Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Land Distribution and Planning Rights, Negev Bedouins and Unrecognized Villages

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