March for Bedouin Rights Ends at President’s Residence in Jerusalem

Protesters submit master plan for recognizing, developing impoverished Bedouin communities in southern Israel.

Shirly Seidler
Participants in the march for Bedouin rights walk pass the Knesset, March 29, 2015.
Participants in the march for Bedouin rights walk pass the Knesset, March 29, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman
Shirly Seidler

A four-day, 130-kilometer march from the Negev to Jerusalem that was organized to draw attention to the unrecognized Bedouin communities in southern Israel yesterday reached its destination, the President’s Residence in the capital.

Around 100 marchers arrived at the official residence of President Reuven Rivlin yesterday afternoon, after staying overnight in the village of Abu Ghosh, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. They were joined by Knesset members from the Joint List, whose leader Ayman Odeh was one of the march’s organizers.

They submitted to the president’s wife, Nehama Rivlin, and the president’s staff, a master plan for recognizing their communities, based on research by planning rights association Bimkom and Negev Bedouin women’s association Sidra. A meeting with the president, who was in Singapore for the funeral of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, is scheduled for next week.

The master plan calls for giving official recognition to the 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages scattered throughout the Negev and canceling government plans to resettle their estimated 100,000 inhabitants, connecting these communities to the state water and electricity grids and halting home demolitions. According to the plan’s authors, the cost of the infrastructure work would be far less than the millions of shekels the state spends on demolishing homes each year.

The number of marchers fluctuated over the course of the march, swelling over the weekend. The marchers stepped off on Thursday from the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi al-Na’am. Odeh, around a dozen villagers and the head of the Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, Fari Masamra, walked the entire 130 kilometers.

MK Taleb al-Sana, a resident of Lakiya, said outside The President’s Residence that the march’s importance was in voicing the concerns of people to whom the Israel government was deaf.

“There is no such thing as an unrecognized community or citizen — only in the Negev is such a thing seen. These people’s only crime is that they are Arabs. We’re not demanding favors or benevolence, we’re demanding civil rights and recognition of their social rights and social justice.”

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