The way to the Bedouin settlement of Arab-al-Naim, in the Galilee an hour northeast of Haifa, is not really a road. It’s a winding track that becomes a dirt track that turns into preparations to build a road in the middle of the village.
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On the road into the village stand a few villas in different stages of construction, while on the slopes are some improvised tin shacks, propped up by boulders, with sheep and goats wandering around. Behind these shacks are more villas under construction.
On March 17 fully three-quarters — 76% to be exact — of this village’s votes went to Likud, the highest percentage of support in the country. The Arab Joint List garnered only 15% here. All the other parties each got less than 1%.
In the previous election Likud got 49%, less than half, of the votes in Arab-al-Naim.
Nimr Naim, who heads the village council and is a member of the Likud Party, says the latest result is self-evident.
The villas are intended for village residents now living in the tin shacks. Naim looks out at the shacks from the entrance to his own villa, now in the final stages of construction.
“In a few years people will come here from abroad to learn how to build a community,” he says, detailing the funds the village has received in recent years.
`Bibi’s signature is on the plans’
Until 1999 Arab-al-Naim and its more than 800 residents were an unrecognized village. Naim relates how other communities in the Misgav regional council enlisted in the campaign to grant his village official recognition.
Of regional-council head Ron Shani he declares that “if he entered politics I’d support him.” Asked about visits to the village by politicians, he struggles to recall some: “Shalom Simchon was here in 2003 and Fouad (Benjamin Ben-Eliezer) was here in 2005. Thanks to [Ben-Eliezer] we now have electricity.”
The village’s socioeconomic situation is dire. People here don’t talk about the regular political topics. The main topic is the transition to permanent buildings.
Naim laughs, saying that even the mosque is a shack, “but I can pray right here,” pointing to the ground.
He then lists the development projects that are under way in the village: kindergartens, sewers, a road, electricity, a soccer pitch.
“People know that Bibi’s signature is on the plans,” he says, explaining the support for Likud. Walking from the unfinished villa to the shack in which he currently resides, he adds that “for the last year and a half, people’s hearts here are filled with joy.”
“I voted Likud because they help us,” says Naim’s daughter Shuruq, a 20-year old student. She didn’t hear Netanyahu’s words about hordes of Arabs streaming to the polling stations.
“Bibi is only flesh and blood and he can be overcome by pressure,” says Nimr Naim. “He probably didn’t mean it.”
`People here are hungry’
Another resident, Ibrahim Naim, 24, says he voted Likud, just as he did previously. He’s not bothered by Netanyahu’s words and judges only actions.
“I could just sit here and keep blaming the state, but how would that help?” asks Nimr Naim. “One has to go to the right places. By chance Likud was there and the village’s condition touched them.
“I used to sleep in a cave with my goats. Now I ask my daughter what wallpaper she wants in her room.” he says with a smile.
An old man walking at the edge of the village has another explanation: “People vote according to the instructions of the village council,” he says. But he, too, is happy with all the construction.
Yet another resident in the area, who asks not to be identified by name or the place he lives, says “people here are hungry.” He adds that “it is all about vote contractors.” These are people who urge voters to back specific candidates, sometimes quietly promising things in return.
Voting is `like grinding water’
Not far from Arab-al-Naim is the unrecognized village of Kubsi, with 80 residents. The only villas around here are those of the Jewish community of Lavon.
Kubsi resident Hamed Suwad says he doesn’t vote: “It’s like grinding water. No one does the actual work. The people up above created the conflict between you and me.”
He, along with his wife and mother, was called to vote at three different polling stations in the nearby village of Nahef. None of them exercised their right, even though their village was visited by prospective MKs Ayoub Kara (Likud) and Yossi Yona (Labor). (Both made it into the Knesset this time around.)
Only one of Suwad’s sons voted, for the Joint List. Another son, a high-school student, said he wouldn’t vote even if he could: “Why, would anyone count my vote?”
Suwad wouldn’t vote for the Joint List in any case. “Their MKs declare that they won’t sit in the coalition,” he says. “They should deal with what is happening here, then deal with Abu Mazen,” Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.
Suwad looks at his small stone house with the metal roof. And he quotes his son who serves in the IDF: “During the war they said that we are fighting for our homes. But who would fight for a home like this one?”