wadi attir - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - December 6 2011
Wadi Attir Project co-founder Shehadeh Abu Sabit. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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After many years of supporting agricultural and ecological ventures in the Negev intended primarily for Jews, the government this week decided for the first time to also support an ecological-agricultural community for Bedouin.

The ministerial committee for the Negev and Galilee, headed by Vice Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee Silvan Shalom, decided to approve a Bedouin association's proposal to set up a sustainable desert community in the Negev's Wadi Attir, near the Bedouin community of Hura. Currently the Negev has dozens of such communities set up exclusively for Jewish farmers.

Under the proposal approved by the committee, the community will be a cooperative venture of the government and the Bedouin-run Wadi Attir Project. The community's primary objective will be to preserve and nurture traditional Bedouin agricultural know-how. As part of the project, whose partners include the Ministry of Agriculture and the New York-based International Sustainability Laboratories, the community will receive support totaling NIS 6 million.

"This project will cover an area of 400 dunams [some 100 acres]," said Shehadeh Abu Sabit, one of the founders of the Wadi Attir Project. "Our goal is to learn how to better utilize natural resources and also use traditional Bedouin know-how. We will use solar energy to produce electricity; we will plant many trees and grow medicinal plants on an expanse of dozens of dunams."

According to Abu Sabit, "in Bedouin culture there are at least 17 types of plants with various medicinal uses."

In addition, the community will recycle waste and act to improve the soil and render it fertile again.

The model sustainable community will fill an educational and instructional role, and Abu Sabit stresses that this activity is intended for all sectors of the population. "We want to set up a visitors center with classrooms. If we obtain all the necessary permits shortly, we will be able to start building the community."

He says construction of the community will take around three years.

According to the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, given the desert conditions in the area and the Bedouin population's extensive agricultural experience, three areas were chosen as the backbone of the model community project: sheep herding and developing meat and dairy products, growing medicinal plants, and raising indigenous vegetables based on seeds from the area. All the agriculture in the project will be organic. The association that will build and operate the community will employ people from the entire Bedouin sector, and disseminate know-how learned there to all Bedouin farmers.

The Bedouin's extensive knowledge of the desert and its characteristics has gradually disappeared due to the influences of modern life. In addition, the exploitation of agricultural plots by sheep herding has increased, damaging local flora and soil fertility.

However, the Bedouin have learned some of the environmental advantages of state-of-the-art technologies, and in recent years many of them have been using solar panels to produce electricity. Recently the planning authorities agreed to grant the Bedouin plots of land where they can set up solar farms, in collaboration with commercial enterprises.