Despite Official Recognition, Waste Management in Bedouin Villages Is Still a Mess

Disputed land ownership means no property taxes. No property taxes means no money for waste management. No waste management means health hazards.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

More than five years after the state granted official recognition a number of the Bedouin villages northeast of Be’er Sheva, tens of thousands of inhabitants are still without garbage collection services, thanks to a bureaucratic tangle.

The increasing environmental pollution and potential health hazard have led the Environmental Protection Ministry to intervene. A proposal will be submitted to the government in the coming weeks to allocate a special budget to finance garbage collection – a first in the history of the villages.

On Tuesday, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz visited one of the locales, Um Batin. There, opposite a gully overflowing with piles of waste, representatives of the Al Qasum and Neveh Midbar local council explained to him the legal tangle that is preventing them from collecting taxes and funding measures to collect the waste.

The tangle is due to the fact that despite recognition, the question of land ownership among the village's residents has not yet been resolved. The status of their homes, which are still defined as illegal, has also not been determined and, without legal status, the local authority cannot collect property taxes. Without the taxes, the local council doesn't have the budget for routine waste management. There are a few central facilities used for collecting waste in the meantime, for which inhabitants contribute about a third of the cost.

The absence of a solution is contributing to a deterioration of the environmental situation. Piles of wastes are accumulated then burned, a serious health hazard for residents. The Environmental Protection Ministry has tried to put pressure on the heads of the authorities and has even threatened a court case against Rahamim Yona, head of the Al Qasum council, if he doesn't take action.

But without a budget, Yona can't do anything so he has countered with the High Court of Justice against the enforcement measures that have been opened against him.

The director of the Southern Region at the ministry, Guy Samet, explained that they embarked on these procedures “because we expected the local council to fulfill its obligation and if it is not succeeding in doing so, then it should demand help from the Interior Ministry.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry understands they need to intervene directly. Last year they formulated a proposal to provide NIS 43 million for the collection and treatment of waste in all the Bedouin councils in the Negev. However, approval has been delayed due of a dispute between ministries about the source of the funds. Peretz has said he intends to bring the plan to the government for approval in the coming weeks.

At the same time, the local councils have prepared a plan for dealing with the waste. Among other things, there are tremendous amounts of construction waste currently being dumped on the banks of the gullies and in the surrounding area after houses are built or renovated. The plan is expected to include an experimental initiative to distribute composters to residents to turn waste into fertilizer for agricultural use. Recycling centers will also be established.

Government approval of the budget will not resolve all of the waste issues in Bedouin communities. There is still the question of collecting waste from the unrecognized villages where the regional councils do not have authority.

The Bedouin village of Wadi al-Na’am. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Amir Peretz.Credit: Oren Nachshon

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