Seventy prominent Canadian writers, including Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Yann Martel (Life of Pi), Lorna Crozier, and Lisa Moore (Open), wrote an open letter to Canadian and Israeli officials urging Israel to cease its plans to evict Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, and to reject the Begin-Prawer Plan that would forcibly relocate 20,000-70,000 Bedouins from their homes in the Negev. Israel has designated the land of the South Hebron Hills as a military firing zone, and says that the native Palestinians must be evicted because the area will be an unsafe and unsuitable place to inhabit. International law, however, dictates that Israel’s annexation of land in the West Bank is illegal, and Canadian writer Yann Martel asked “if you’re going to have a firing zone, why don’t you have it on your own land, not in occupied land?”
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHAOPT), Israel has designated about 18 percent of the West Bank as Israeli military training territory, which “is roughly the same amount of the West Bank under full Palestinian authority.”
The Canadian writers also urge the rejection of the Begin-Prawer plan that, if approved by Israeli lawmakers, would forcibly relocate 20,000-70,000 Bedouin of the Negev desert, many of whom live in “unrecognized” villages that were established before the creation of the State of Israel. According to the Begin-Prawer plan, the unrecognized villages would be destroyed and the Bedouin – who are citizens of Israel – would be concentrated in government-approved townships, a move that many argue would force them to abandon their traditional way of life.
The Bedouin have inhabited the Negev since the seventh century, but Israel claims that forcibly relocating them to government-approved townships will improve their access to services and afford them better opportunities. However, Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) argues that Israel has deliberately withheld services from the unrecognized villages in order to encourage the Bedouin to relocate. Furthermore, Adalah deplores the Begin-Prawer plan as a “gross violation of the constitutional rights of the Arab Bedouin citizens to property, dignity, equality, adequate housing, and freedom to choose their own residence.”
Recently, the European Parliament passed a resolution that called on Israel to withdraw the Begin-Prawer Plan. The resolution also called for the protection of the Negev Bedouin communities, for their rights to be respected, and it condemned “any violations (e.g. house demolitions, forced displacements, public service limitations).” If Israel carries out the forced relocation of the Bedouin from their unrecognized villages, Adalah has reported that industrial areas, a military base, and Jewish settlements will take their place.
The letter penned by the Canadian writers came on the heels of one written by 25 of Israel’s most prominent writers, including David Grossman, that denounced Israel’s planned eviction of the Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills.