After Half a Century of Struggle, Negev Village Finally Earns Official Recognition

After years of struggle for official recognition, the village of Darijat was inaugurated by villagers and Interior Ministry officials at a ceremony in the Negev yesterday.

The residents recently managed to persuade the Interior Ministry to grant them recognition and include them in the new local council made up of Bedouin villages in the Negev.

Darijat was set up 150 years ago by the Abu Hamad family, peasants from the village of Dura on Mount Hebron. It remains to this day the only Arab village in the Negev that is not Bedouin.

During the early days, the villagers lived in caves that are still kept in the middle of the village and have become, over time, tourist attractions. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the authorities refused to recognize the village and it joined the ranks of others like it that remained unrecognized by the state for years.

Lack of state recognition meant the absence of basic services, such as running water, electricity and paved roads. The first garbage truck ever to enter the village did so three weeks ago.

Over the years the residents also had to deal with demolitions of homes that were built without permits, which were unobtainable since the village was not recognized.

Despite the difficulties posed by the lack of recognition, the residents of the village managed to develop sufficient organization for orderly daily life. They built their own clinic and a school, and following petitions to the High Court of Justice they managed to gain services from the ministries of Education and Health.

The locals also paved their own roads, and each clan dug a water hole and has water delivered by water tanker. Similarly, each extended family has a generator that provides them with electricity.

The residents are proud of their achievements in having no unemployment and almost no crime in their village.

"For us, being unemployed is shameful," says a village councilman, Amar Abu Hamad.

In 2000, the minister for Arab affairs in Ehud Barak's government, Matan Vilnai, announced that the village would be recognized. But with the advent of the Sharon government, the matter went back to square one, and it was proposed that Darijat would be a neighborhood in a joint village called Marit.

Yesterday, however, the long wait of the Darijat residents finally ended.