Israel’s Invisible Negev Bedouin: Issues of Land and Spatial Planning

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The term Bedouin has historically described nomadic tribes of the Middle East. These people have traditionally been associated with a pastoral nomadic lifestyle that includes raising livestock such as sheep, goats and camels. Over the last few decades, their semi-nomadic way of life and societal structure have undergone immense and rapid changes, as they have moved to a more sedentary way of living.

Approximately , Bedouins live in the Negev Desert in Israel, with an estimated 80, of them living in 45 villages that are unrecognized by the Israeli government. These Arab-Bedouins are Israeli citizens. However, with respect to their political and legal rights, the Bedouins in the "illegal" villages find themselves in no-man's land. They are not granted rights to construct permanent housing, the names of their villages cannot be listed on their ID cards,[3] the villages appear on no maps, and the residents of these villages lack local voting rights, and basic services such as running water, electricity, garbage collection, roads, schools and health clinics.

The Israeli government and ministries have stigmatized the Bedouins as "illegal settlers. The other half of the Bedouin population in the Negev lives in government-created towns and find themselves in a situation only somewhat better than that of the Bedouins in the unrecognized villages. They are concentrated in eight towns that are characterized by high unemployment rates and the lowest income in the country.

This is another factor which strengthens the growing chasm between Israel's dominant Jewish society and the Arab-Bedouins. In essence, whether in the legal or illegal settlements, the Bedouins are hindered from living a life of their choosing, and are controlled by the Jewish-Israeli apparatus of state. Throughout the personal encounters that we had with members of the Bedouin population, not only on that day, but throughout our course, one central notion from the field of conflict analysis and resolution that seemed to best describe what we saw is structural violence.

Briefly stated, " Structural violence Structural violence is built into everyday life, into the economy, a political system, and into the landscape. As Galtung tells us, cultural violence is used by one group "to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence While these concepts capture an important aspect of the social world in the Negev, and issues of "legality" of settlements, at least concerning the Bedouin, they do not get at the roots of the status quo.

This can only be done by taking an in-depth look at the complex power relationships that exist between Israeli governmental institutions and the Bedouin. These power relations are best understood in a historical context and in relation to the underlying values and ideology of Israeli society.

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After the Holocaust, and after years of Jewish immigration from many countries from Europe to what was then Palestine, an independent Israeli state was created in The land, which is present-day Israel, was chosen for religious reasons and nationalistic ideological reasons , in what was termed modern Zionism.

The continuous immigration of Jews, when Palestine was under a British mandate, took place against the will of the Arab leaders and the local population. While both the Jews and the Arabs historically claim the region to be their homeland, the outcome of the War left the Jews with a state, and the Palestinian Arabs without one. The Arab-Bedouin that remained within Israel's borders after the war did not belong to the hegemonic secular Jewish Zionist society. The Arab citizens of Israel, and the Bedouin among them, had no place in the nation of Israel and were systematically led to live in the cultural, political and economic margins.

As a result, the Bedouin of the Negev region have two options — to either move to one of the eight established Bedouin towns, which often do not have the room to house them or the infrastructure to support them, or to live "illegally," dispersed in settlements throughout the desert. In order to combat this structural violence and discrimination, and to establish relationships based on equality, Jews and Arabs joined together in to form the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality also known by its Hebrew name, Dukium [co-existence].

Why is Israel demolishing Bedouin homes?

The Negev Coexistence Forum is a grassroots organization that is built on the belief that social justice is only possible when people work together as equal partners. Approximately 30 Jewish and Arab volunteer activists regularly join forces to achieve this goal. In addition, Dukium has a network comprised of hundreds of people who participate in different activities and are kept abreast of issues of interest through their listserve and website www.

The Forum's members come from diverse backgrounds and include community leaders, educators, lawyers, academics and social workers and it is unique in that it is the only Arab-Jewish organization that focuses on collaborative coexistence in the Negev region. Dukium has set as its main mission the advancement of full civil rights and equality for all citizens of the Negev. The Forum's projects are focused around a number of key areas ranging from immediate "hands-on" activities to long-term processes that aim for sustainability. These projects include: conferences on civil and legal issues concerning the Bedouin; written reports of infringements on civil and human rights ; guided tours of unrecognized Bedouin villages; work days in unrecognized villages e.

During the advanced practicum in Israel, we were privileged to see these "invisible places" and to hear "unheard testimonies" by community leaders and activists. The inadequate provision or total lack of public transport between the towns serves to further isolate women. The following are discriminatory land allocation policies and policies of forced dispossession and displacement of the Arab Bedouin in the Naqab adopted by the State of Israel in recent years. The aim of these settlements is to populate the Naqab with Jewish citizens while excluding Arab citizens from the land.

In , there were 59 individual settlements in the Naqab, stretching over 81, dunams of land. No funds are allocated under the plan for planning and infrastructure in the seven villages in the process of gaining recognition. Following the approval of the plan, the state intensified its efforts to demolish Arab Bedouin homes in the Naqab. But sometimes the state is forced to implement coercive measures. Following the court order and all the legal procedure it demolishes houses built illegally on what it considers to be state lands.

This is done in order to implement law and order in the Negev, as well as to build new settlements both for Jews and for the Bedouin, and improve life conditions of the Bedouin by moving them to townships with a developed infrastructure. A group of local residents tried to resist government's demolition of houses built as a result of squatters' housing. During the relocation of the Bedouin and their active resistance three people were injured, including a child.

Following this event, RCUV was created.

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It consisted of a local committee of traditional leaders joined by several "community professionals". The founders of the RCUV soon after took on developing a "Plan for the Development of Municipal Authority for the Arab Bedouin of the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev", as an alternative to the Israeli government's standard approach to relocation of residents of the unrecognized villages against their will. After the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court in cooperation with the RCUV and the villagers it seeks to represent, the planning authorities acknowledged that Tamam had discriminated against the Bedouin.

Issues of Land and Spatial Planning

In July government planners agreed to meet with community representatives. However, Human Rights Watch says this process dragged on for over seven years, and despite some improvements, in the Plan still ignored the needs of most of the unrecognized villages.

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  • Answering the housing need of the Negev Bedouin and as a part of the policy of step-by-step recognition of the unrecognized communities where it is possible, the State of Israel went on and initiated a creation of a new regional council whose sole purpose was to unite all the Bedouin communities that previously did not belong to other municipalities in order to solve their problems in a more organized way.

    On September 29, Israeli government has adapted a new "Abu Basma Plan" Resolution , according to which a new Abu Basma Regional Council was formed, unifying a number of unrecognized Bedouin settlements. The council was established by the Interior Ministry on 28 January Moreover, Israel is currently building or enlarging some 13 towns and cities in the Negev.

    Bedouin in the Negev Face New “Transfer” | MERIP

    Several new industrial zones are planned, some are already being constructed, like Idan haNegev on the suburbs of Rahat. In September , the Israeli government approved a five-year economic development plan called the Prawer plan. This will require Bedouins to leave ancestral villages, cemeteries and communal life as they know it. When the cabinet approved it, simultaneously it also approved a NIS 1. Much of the approved funds will be allocated for the development of industrial zones , establishment of employment centers and professional training.

    This claim has been resisted by Bedouin people.


    According to the Prawer plan, the present Bedouin communities will undergo a comprehensive planning process. The existing communities will be expanded, some unrecognized communities will be recognized and start to receive public services , while their infrastructure will be renewed.

    All these changes will be done in the framework of the Beer Sheva District masterplan. Most residents will be absorbed into the Abu Basma Regional Council. While the government claims that the nature of these future communities, whether agricultural, rural, suburban or urban will be decided in full cooperation with the local Bedouin and that relocated people will receive new residences, many Bedouin people have found new homes unsustainable, destructive of their communities—and have been forced out of their homes.