Habitat for Humanity Aids Unrecognized Bedouin Towns

A new committee to further the rights of Bedouin living in unrecognized villages in the Negev began work yesterday in Be'er Sheva. The organization is a joint project of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages and Habitat for Humanity, an international Christian organization that builds housing for the poor.

Of the 49 Bedouin villages in the Negev, 13 have been recognized by the state or are in the process of being recognized. However 80,000 Bedouin still live without basic infrastructure and are under threat that the authorities will demolish their homes and confiscate the land.

Professors from Israel and abroad are on the committee, as well as former UN officials. In the coming week they are to hear testimony from local inhabitants, tour the unrecognized villages and submit a report to Habitat for Humanity.

Atwa Abu-Farikh, head of the Council for Unrecognized Villages, said, "We are at the end of six years of programs for the Arab population in the Negev with no cooperation and no consideration for their needs. In light of the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee, which discriminates against the population on the matter of land and housing, we concluded that we must ask international human rights groups to evaluate the situation in cooperation with the population."

The Goldberg Committee, headed by former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, was appointed in December 2007 by the Housing Ministry to examine the dispute over land ownership between the state and the Bedouin community. Its recommendations, submitted four months ago, included recognizing some of the villages and moving others to different locations. It also recommended that some of the Bedouin land demands be met and in other cases to offer monetary compensation.

Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee "could have created equality and reconciliation but did not do so." Jaber Abu-Kaf, a founder of the Council for Unrecognized Villages, told the committee yesterday that some residents of the villages had land ownership documents going back to Ottoman times but that Israel does not recognize them.