Israel announces new resettlement plan for Negev Bedouins
BETHLEHEM – Israeli authorities Monday announced the approval of plans to build a new township for Israel’s Bedouin community in the Negev desert, according to Israeli media, in a continuation of what rights groups have said is Israel’s discriminatory policy of forcibly transferring Bedouins to Israeli-zoned townships to make room for Jewish communities.
The planned township is expected to be built just south of Segev Shalom, another Bedouin township, and would transfer at least 7,000 Bedouins from the unrecognized village of Wadi al-Naam, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The approved village would comprise of an area of approximately 9,000 dunams (2,224 acres), while providing housing to some 9,000 residents, The Times of Israel reported.
The proposal to expand the area of Segev Shalom was challenged in Israel’s Supreme Court last year, as the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), who assisted in the court proceedings, argued that any expansion of the town would be followed by the forcible removal of Bedouins from unrecognized villages, particularly from Wadi al-Naam.
Wadi al-Naam residents and Israeli human rights groups presented an alternative planning proposal to the Supreme Court in April last year, which presented 15,000 dunams of land for a town separate from the densely populated neighborhoods of Segev Shalom.
According to Haaretz, Israel’s National Planning and Building Council recommended to the court the construction of the township in January in cooperation with village residents. However, residents of Wadi al-Naam have reportedly not been consulted about the approved plans.
Wadi al-Naam is one of 35 Bedouin villages considered “unrecognized” by the Israeli state. According to ACRI, more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages.
While Bedouins of the Negev are Israeli citizens, the villages unrecognized by the government have faced relentless efforts by the Israeli authorities to expel them from their lands in order to make room for Jewish Israeli homes.
The classification of their villages as “unrecognized” prevents Bedouins from developing or expanding their communities, as their villages are considered illegal by Israeli authorities. According to ACRI, entire Bedouin communities have been issued demolition orders in the past, while the village of al-Araqib has been demolished at least 100 times by Israeli forces in the past six years.
Israeli authorities have also refused to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages to the national water and electricity grids, while excluding the communities from access to health and educational services, and basic infrastructure.
Bedouins are considered a semi-nomadic group, as their way of life is dependent on access to wide areas of grazing land for their animals. Rights groups have argued that the relocation of Bedouins to permanent Israeli townships, oftentimes located in already stressed environments, severely disrupts their traditional lifestyles.
The Wadi al-Naam village was established in the 1950s soon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that established the state of Israel. Military officials forcibly transferred the Negev Bedouins to the site during the 17 year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel’s military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.
Now more than 60 years later, the village has yet to be recognized by Israel.
According to Israeli human rights group Bimkom, Wadi al-Naam, much like other unrecognized villages in the Negev, are “not connected to the water, electricity, sewage, telephone or road networks, and its inhabitants suffer from a severe lack of education, welfare and sanitation services.”
The group also pointed out that Israeli authorities have created hazardous conditions in the villages by establishing industrial zones near their vicinities. The Ramat Hovav Industrial Zone, for instance, was established near Wadi al-Naam, which residents have said releases bad odors into the air and pollutes the air, soil, and water, while a site purposed with burying explosive materials was also established near the village.
However, rather than working to remove the source of pollution from their communities, Israeli authorities have instead pushed for their eviction from the area.
Meanwhile, Israeli Jewish settlements in the Negev continuously expand, with five new settlements approved last year. According to an investigation undertaken by ACRI and Bimkom, two of the approved settlements are located in areas where unrecognized Bedouin villages already exist.
The plan would see the displacement of at least 7,500 Bedouins from the unrecognized villages of Katamat and Beer Hadaj.