Posted by: Lister | September 11, 2008

Unrecognized Bedouin Communities

Tory MPs from Britain have visited some of the Bedouin villages that Israel has not recognised. The JPost:

A group of British Conservative MPs will be touring the unrecognized Beduin villages of the Negev on Tuesday, and will be asked by representatives of those villages to pressure Israel to change its policy toward them.

[…] “This is one of the greatest injustices done to Israel’s Arab minority, and we hope they’ll do everything to [pressure] Israel about it,” [Dr. Yeela Raanan] said. [Public affairs officer for the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages]

[…] According to a press release of the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages, the MPs will visit the unrecognized village Wadi Na’am, “and will hear about life alongside the toxic waste dump and chemical factories of Ramat Hovav, about the establishment of a power plant in the village center and about living without basic services such as water and electricity.”

Jonathan Cook has written about these villages iin the past:

Officially the state justifies its aggressive approach on the grounds that the Bedouin are too scattered to be connected to services. The irony is not lost on Bedouin leaders like Labad Abu Afash, the mayor of the unrecognised village of Wadi Al-Naam, near Beersheva.

In the late 1970s the state built the Negev’s main electricity sub-station in the very centre of the village, with volts surging over the heads of the 3,000 inhabitants even though none of their homes is connected to the supply. “We can feel the electricity humming in our heads but we are not allowed to benefit from it,” he says.

Similar criteria are not being enforced on the more than 100 tiny Jewish communities that have sprung up all over the Negev in recent years. Some have barely more than a dozen families but are instantly connected to public services.

There are at least 7 Bedouin towns in the Negev which do receive significant support from the Israeli government. Here is some data from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Within a single generation, the Bedouin of Israel have succeeded in reducing illiteracy from 95% to 25%; those still illiterate are aged 55 and above.

[…] At present there are 33 elementary schools, three high schools and three vocational schools for the Bedouin community in the Negev. […] All the Bedouin high schools and 60% of the elementary schools in the Negev, are located in the seven Bedouin towns there.

But on the subject of illegal buildings:

Tents and light structures (shacks and huts) built illegally are treated forgivingly. But construction of houses of stone or concrete without a building permit is considered an offense, since adequate infrastructure and services cannot be provided. Some 2,000 such locations with buildings already exist, scattered over an area of about 1,000 square kilometers.

So you can live in a tent (without infrastructure and services) but you can’t build a house — because there’ll be no electricity (unless, like the Bedouin, you use generators). Maybe the MFA doesn’t want the Bedouin building “facts on the ground”.

And it’s especially ironic given Cook’s article, quoted above: smaller Jewish communities are hooked up to services, and one Bedouin village has an electricity sub-station which the Bedouin aren’t connected to. Also:

In April the water supply from a single standpipe, the only source of running water in the village [of Atir], was cut off. A private contractor now has to be paid to bring a tanker of water every few days so that they can fill their jerry cans.

So the standpipe was cut off because, in the words of the MFA, “adequate infrastructure and services cannot be provided.”

That article was published in 2004. Here’s the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions article from Jan 2008:

The Negev is the final frontier inside Israel, the last tract of largely undeveloped land in the state. Israel has virtually completed the dismemberment of Palestinian lands in the center and north of the country, and now is consolidating the ‘Jewish redemption’ of the southern desert.

These Bedouin lands are coveted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which has published plans to move large numbers of Jews to the Negev. To make way for new JNF communities, the ‘unrecognized’ villages of A-Tir, Um Al-Hiran, and Twail Abu Jarwal were destroyed during 2007 in military-style operations involving large forces of police and soldiers, displacing hundreds of families. The Interior ministry has also sent airborne crop dusters to poison the Bedouin fields with broad-spectrum herbicides. The feared Green Patrol, a paramilitary unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, conducts these operations.

There are over 150,000 Bedouin in the Negev desert, with well-established territorial rights dating back to the Ottoman Era. However immediately after the founding of the state in 1948, the government began to confiscate land and move the Bedouin to ever decreasing areas, while allocating state resources for the development of new Jewish-only towns and agricultural settlements. Although the Bedouin were eventually granted citizenship of Israel, they were under military rule until 1966. Through legislation and various legal mechanisms the state has decreed the Bedouin to be squatters on their own land and thus the courts support the demolition of homes and expulsion of the inhabitants. The JNF, through its ‘Blueprint Negev’ plan, intends to create 25 new towns in the Negev over the coming years, bringing 250,000 new Jewish residents to the region according to its web site. The JNF is also planting forests on Bedouin land, such as the Ambassador Forest on the lands of the Elokbi Tribe north of Be’er Sheva.

[…] Bedouin in ‘unrecognized’ villages receive no government services, are subject to a separate body of law and regulation, have their land confiscated for Jewish settlement, and are generally relegated to the margins of existence.

The Bedouin have a long and proud tradition as a people. During the first decades of the state, they gave allegiance to Israel, sent their sons to the army and expected the respect they deserve. They received none. Instead the state as continued its mission to serve only the interests of Jewish citizens, and as a result few Bedouin serve in the IDF today. The cost might be high. Bedouin leaders have warned that the anger simmering under the surface may erupt, and Israel may face a Bedouin uprising, an Intifada within the state that could destroy what little is left of Jewish democracy. Perhaps it’s time for the State of Israel to become a democracy for the benefit of all its citizens, before it’s too late.

Here’s Haaretz:

Fifty years after moving to the Yattir area, members of the Alqian Bedouin tribe are in danger of being removed from Attir-Alhiran. The land is earmarked for a new Jewish neighborhood.

In an effort to halt the eviction and enable the construction of a permanent community for them, villagers recently revealed a document, once classified as confidential, proving that it was the state that permitted them to settle on the land.

[…] One of the formerly confidential documents was written in 1956 by Uri Lubrani, then an adviser on Arab affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office. In response to a query from a cabinet minister, Lubrani noted that members of the tribe were active in smuggling and gathering information about military movements and added: “In the wake of pressure from the military government and after many in the tribe were apprehended for various crimes, it was agreed that two-thirds of them, under the leadership of Azam Jibri Abu Rajan, were to move to the Attir area and acquire by lease state lands in accordance with Agriculture Ministry guidelines, and to work the land.”

[…] According to the recent petition, tribe members lived on and worked the land until the 1980s, when their leases were suspended and most of the land was made part of a Jewish National Fund reforestation project. “Despite this, the Alqian want to continue to live on the land and pursue a traditional way of life,” the petition said.

[…] The state proposed that the Alqian move to the neighboring Bedouin town of Hura, which is envisioned to become a city of 20,000, but the Alqian are demanding that they be permitted to stay where they are and maintain their lifestyle.

The villagers of Attir-Alhiran and other unrecognized villages had hoped for recognition of their communities as part of the greater Be’er Sheva metropolitan plan, which covers much of the northern Negev, but that did not happen. The plan does, however, include the establishment of three Jewish communities in the Yattir area: Hiran, Yattir and Carmit.

“Despite the fact that two of the new communities are planned for the exact site of Attir-Alhiran, recognition of the village, which has been in existence for over 50 years, was not recognized and no land was allocated for its development,” the petition said. “At the same time, residents of the village have been offered a move to Hura as the sole solution, which harms their fundamental rights to choose the place and surroundings of their domicile and to enjoy equality in the division of the space in which they live.”

So there were facts on the ground for 50years. But the lease is up. So on you go — even though you were moved there by the state in the first place.

Finally, an article from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office — 2004, at the time of Sharon. A visit to the Negev City of Rahat:

Mayor Al-Karinawi said that the community center that was dedicated had been planned in 1972: “We waited 32 years, Mr. Prime Minister, until you came and completed its construction. We all know that you respect the Bedouin community. Not every Israeli mayor meets the Prime Minister as often as I.”

Education, Culture and Sports Minister Livnat said that four years ago, 37% of Rahat students did not finish their studies and that today the number has declined to 12%.

[…] [Sharon] added that “As someone who has lived in the Negev for many years, and having served as OC Southern Command before that, I have longstanding personal ties with the Bedouin community. We are very much interested in Rahat being a showcase for the Negev Bedouin.”

[…] At the aforementioned meeting, Prime Minister Sharon had also directed that the issue of a joint industrial and employment zone in the Lehavim area be advanced. The plans for are in the advanced planning stages and are due to be submitted to the regional committee within a few weeks.

Prime Minister Sharon has set the advancement of the non-Jewish sector as one of the goals for the 2005 budget.

I posted most of this at the JREF, back in January.



  1. Another article on this topic from Jonathan Cook.

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