Israeli Plan to Build Houses for Bedouin Gains Traction

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Bedouin houses in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

A plan to build 2,035 new houses in the Negev Bedouin village of Umm Batin and to legalize existing houses there was approved in principle Monday by an Interior Ministry planning committee.

Though Umm Batin, unlike many Bedouin villages, is legally recognized by the state, this would be the first authorized plan to build new housing there. Until now, permits were granted only for infrastructure projects and public buildings.

The plan would also legalize numerous houses that were built without permits, preventing their demolition and sparing residents the need to move to new houses.

Final approval of the plan will depend on compliance with conditions set by the planning committee – formally known as the Southern District National Housing Committee – and other government agencies.

The Bedouin Community Settlement Authority said this was the first plan approved under a new master plan for Umm Batin approved by the ministry in 2011.

The planning committee also approved a plan to build 170 new houses, plus public buildings, in the Negev Bedouin town of Lakiya.

“The success in Umm Batin is a result of cooperation with the Interior Ministry and the Al-Kasom Regional Council, along with a thorough process of involving Umm Batin residents,” said Bedouin Authority director Yehuda Bachar.

Over the last year, Umm Batin has undergone significant development. Last month, the Environmental Protection Ministry stationed hundreds of dumpsters there, making it the first Bedouin village to receive trash-collection services from the state. Previously, residents had been forced to burn their garbage, causing severe air pollution.

Work has also begun on cleaning up the Hebron stream, which runs right through the village and has been badly polluted by sewage from the city of Hebron.

Despite the state’s efforts to bolster recognized Bedouin villages, over the last year the state demolished 859 buildings in the Negev, of which 54 percent were in recognized Bedouin villages and only 46 percent in unrecognized ones, according to a report by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.

The report adds that 78 percent of these buildings were razed by the owners themselves, which the authors say reflects the heavy pressure on owners from state authorities. The report was released in honor of Human Rights Day, which is marked on Wednesday.

“On international Human Rights Day, the rights of the Bedouin community continue to be violated daily,” said the forum’s executive director, Haia Noach.

“Israel should be ashamed of a situation in which it pushes its citizens, who have no housing solutions, to raze their own houses. The enormous resources invested in demolishing houses and financing a variety of enforcement agencies should be diverted into fair, sustainable planning for the Bedouin community in the Negev and recognition of the unrecognized villages.”

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