Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bedouins Slam Israel's Desert Development as 'Nakba in the Negev'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bedouins Slam Israel's Desert Development as 'Nakba in the Negev'

Article excerpt

The Bedouins of the southern Negev desert have volunteered for the Israeli military, worked as trackers along the Lebanese and Egyptian borders, and gone along with various Israeli development projects that have required them to give up their nomadic way of life and relocate.

But they feel betrayed now by the latest Israeli government project, a $5.6 billion initiative called the Begin-Prawar plan that will free up space for Israeli development of the Negev by relocating Bedouins in the area if it is approved by the Knesset after it returns from recess next month.

The Israeli government has slated for eviction 40,000 Bedouins in "unrecognized" villages throughout the southern Negev, which are ineligible for basic services such as electricity, water, or sanitation because they are on disputed land and were built without state permission.

Some of the villages will be granted status as formal towns, entitled to state and municipal services including schools, sewage, and healthcare facilities. Residents of the other villages will be resettled into seven existing approved townships.

The government says the move will improve Bedouins' standards of living and describes it as an opportunity for integration into mainstream society, while many Bedouins say that being disconnected from their traditional agricultural land and lifestyle will mean cultural extinction.

The draft law will "make it possible for Bedouin children to leap in time into the midst of the 21st century," said Benny Begin, a former minister and one of the creators of the plan

Bedouins have historically been one of Israel's weakest populations, facing discrimination and disproportionally high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. In 2007, more than two-thirds of the Bedouin in the Negev lived below the poverty line, more than four times that of Israeli households, according to the National Insurance Institute.

Half of the 200,000 Bedouins of the Negev - descendants of semi- nomadic tribes - have already voluntarily relocated to urban centers, where crime and poverty are rampant, and, in some cases, running water and electricity are still lacking.

But many Bedouins, who have worked for the state and for Jewish farms in the region, see it as a betrayal and a violation of their rights as Israeli citizens.

"It's an exile plan," says Bedouin Atiyeh el-Ghassan, who represents the "unrecognized" villages in the Beersheva district court.

He says that Bedouins were not consulted during the planning process, and that as Jewish agricultural communities are growing throughout the Negev, traditionally nomadic and pastoral Bedouins are being forced to urbanize. Many Bedouins say such projects have left their way of life and identity in tatters.

Refusing to be relocatedThe Bedouin village of Al Araqib has steadfastly refused to be relocated. Since 2010, Israeli forces have razed homes and uprooted olive groves here 57 times, claiming that residents are illegal trespassers, according to long-standing land disputes. The village's only surviving structure is a century-old Islamic cemetery.

Hakmeh Abu Medeighim lives in a shoddy wooden tent next door. She and a handful of other families have refused to leave their ancestral lands, strewn with rubble from their homes that were razed, rebuilt, and razed again. Though pine trees stand where their olive trees once were, they pledge that they will die in this harsh desert "even if mourners will have no water for the ritual prayer," says Al Araqib's elder, Sheikh Sayyah al-Turi.

He has been waging a losing battle in municipal courts to prove land ownership, using pre-1948 land deeds - rejected by Israel - as his only legal documents. …

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