Unlike Most Villages, Some Bedouin in the Israel's Negev Do Want to Move

Roy Arad
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Roy Arad

The village of Wadi al-Na'am is located about a kilometer from the stench of Ramat Hovav, the country's largest hazardous waste site, and a few meters from an electric company facility. In a poignant irony, houses in this Bedouin village have no electricity, despite their proximity to this facility.

Unlike the cases of unrecognized villages whose residents are fighting to stay where they are, inhabitants of Wadi al-Na'am are yearning to move to a more hospitable location, one where they would not have to inhale the smoke from the Ramat Hovav waste site. They claim that the Prawer Report, which addresses Bedouin issues, does not provide them with realistic options.

Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Afash, head of the Bedouin village of Wadi Al-Na’am, in the shadow of a waste dump.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The report recommends that they relocate to Segev Shalom, an urban settlement. But many Wadi al-Na'am residents are shepherds. Ehud Prawer, the report's author, never met the village residents. No one thought it necessary to include a Bedouin on the panel. Now Prawer is lobbying the Bedouin in an effort to gain legitimacy for his committee's controversial report.

For residents of an unrecognized village, action on the simplest matters requires petitions to the High Court or demonstrations. At the start of the school year village children demonstrated on the road in order to finalize arrangements to enable them to study in school. Another problem they face: Highway 40 was expanded and repaired in a way that did not take into account the existence of the village. The road engineers were apparently not aware of the existence of a village that has tens of thousands of residents since it does not appear on maps. Road signs near Wadi al-Na'am refer only to the "electric company."

Sitting on pillows and drinking tea in a tent, village head Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Afash recalls the 20 years that he has been conducting negotiations with authorities about relocating the village. Time after time, compromises were reached, but then the agreements were not honored, he explains. "Whatever we agree to gets nullified," the sheikh says. "They don't really want to solve the problem. Police officers and Shin Bet officials who talked with me admitted that moving to Segev Shalom is not really a solution. There's no way we can bring our herds into Segev Shalom. What floor of a building are our sheep supposed to live in? We've stopped making demands about water for irrigation - we just want somewhere to live. But we also want to live as Bedouin."

Abu Afash fought alongside Ariel Sharon during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and was decorated for his courage while crossing the Suez Canal. "I regret that we've reached a situation in which our children do not serve in the IDF," he says. "Once, everyone in the village served in the army; today, barely one percent serve. That's due to the evictions from homes. Every day writs for home demolition are issued."

Asked about the stench from Ramat Hovav, Sheikh Abu Afash says: "The situation today is better than it used to be. In the past, we suffered from really putrid smells; they would dump waste into the wadi (dry river bed ). But then they invested in furnaces, and the situation improved."

Since it is not particularly good for one's health to live in Wadi al-Na'am, village residents secured donations and established an out-patient clinic. "That's wonderful," Abu Afash says. "The health funds agreed to open a clinic here. But the health ministry did not consent. The ministry said that it could not send doctors to work under the high voltage power lines, due to the radiation."

Abu Afash says that he is "disappointed by the officials who were appointed to deal with Bedouin issues. Our village is 5,000 dunams, " he notes. "They asked me how many dunams would the residents want [were they to be relocated]. I said 3,000." And still, Wadi al-Na'am is stuck in the same place.