Israel Announces First-ever Municipal Elections in Negev Bedouin Diaspora

Interior Minister Arye Deri sets date for long-delayed polls for two regional councils.

The Bedouin village of Um Batin.
Ilan Assayag

Interior Minister Arye Dery announced on Wednesday, during a survey of his ministry’s activity in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, that for the first time municipal elections will be held in the Bedouin diaspora in the Negev. According to the minister, the elections in the Neve Midbar and al-Kasom regional councils, which were established in 2012 as appointed committees, will take place on November 29 – exactly four years after their establishment.

The regional councils, which include a total of 11 communities, are an outcome of the split of the Abu Basma Regional Council, which was established in 2004, also as an appointed committee. Prior to that there were no municipal councils in the Bedouin diaspora in the Negev.

Salama Abu Kaf, a member of the local committee of Umm Batin, a village in the al-Kasom Regional Council, welcomed Dery’s decision. “This is an important decision despite the fact that it is belated,” he told Haaretz. “I hope that it will actually be implemented, not as in previous instances when they made sure to cancel it by various means.”

In February 2011, as a result of a petition submitted by residents and civil rights organizations to the High Court of Justice, the Interior Ministry announced its intention of holding elections in December 2012, after many years when the ministry regularly extended the validity of the Abu Basma appointed committee and avoided holding elections. At the time the judge received the parties’ consent to hold elections, and noted that “It is unworthy for the elections to be postponed once again, despite the anticipated difficulties, and only an exceptional event would justify another postponement.”

Still, two months before the election date that was announced in the High Court, in October 2012 former Interior Minister Eli Yishai decided to split the Abu Basma Regional Council into two, thereby once again postponing the scheduled elections, which have not taken place to this day.

In an unrelated development, hours after Dery’s announcement of the elections, a senior official in the al-Kasom Regional Council was questioned on suspicion of committing a sexual offense.