Bedouin, Negev town of Rahat
Bedouin children traversing a new building site in the Negev town of Rahat. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkowitz
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Michal Fattal
The Bedouin welcomed the Jews of the First Aliyah to the Negev. Photo by Michal Fattal

A new Bedouin town is to be formed in the Ramat Negev Regional Council - the first Bedouin community to be incorporated within the boundaries of a Jewish regional council in the south.

Under the plan, approved by the National Planning and Building Committee on Tuesday, the new community will be formed on 1,000 dunams (about 250 acres) and be called Ramat Tzipporim. It will provide homes for members of the Azzazmeh tribe who live in two unrecognized communities in the Negev highlands, between Kibbutz Sde Boker and Mitzpeh Ramon.

Much of the area where the tribe currently lives consists of military firing zones, antiquities and nature reserves, according to the agency in charge of regulating Bedouin settlement. Bedouin there therefore lack infrastructure and basic services.

The new community will be rural to let the Bedouin preserve their way of life. The chairman of the Ramat Negev Regional Council, Shmuel Rifman, wrote the Interior Ministry's director general that the council had no objection to the new community being under its aegis, but that much depended on whether "the Bedouin and their leaders agree to move into one community."

Thabet Abu Ras, director of the Negev office of Adallah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the process of establishing the new community had begun in 2008.

The two communities of Sahel al-Bakar and Abda now gain recognition, but "the government continues its daily destruction of Bedouin houses and communities" as part of a plan Abu Ras said will evict thousands from their homes. "This cannot be called a revolution in the government's policy toward the Bedouin in the Negev," he added.

The chairman of a body representing unrecognized villages in the Negev, Atiya el-Asem, said the Ramat Negev Regional Council has 6,000 Jewish inhabitants and Ramat Tzipporim is expected to have 2,000 Bedouin residents, which would change the demographics in the Ramat Negev council. El-Asem therefore expects Ramat Tzipporim to eventually become part of the Bedouin Abu Basma Regional Council.