Heads of Bedouin Towns Oppose Plan to Host Bedouins From Unrecognized Villages

'We don’t have room to breathe, the resources aren’t enough for the local residents,' says one mayor of a Bedouin town

A Palestinian man looks out of an ancient building in the Bedouin village of Al-Maleh in Jordan valley in the West Bank March 13, 2019.
RANEEN SAWAFTA/Reuters

The heads of Bedouin communities in southern Israel came out against a government plan to temporarily resettle residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in their communities while infrastructure projects are being carried out.

Under a program initiated by the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry, around 36,000 Bedouin would be housed in portable structures in permanent Bedouin towns in the Negev including Hura, Lakiya, Kseifa, Rahat and Tel Sheva. The temporary residences will be connected to the community sewage system.

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The agency said the plan will be implemented only in exceptional cases, such as the extension of the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) or the expansion of the national electricity grid, requiring the temporary removal of residents.

But mayors, local Bedouin activists and the residents themselves fear that the plan aims to move out the Bedouin by making their living conditions much more difficult in their communities.

“We don’t have room to breathe, the resources aren’t enough for the local residents,” the mayor of Arara, Naif Abu Arar, told Haaretz. His town is one of those planned to accept the residents of the unrecognized villages. “This addition will cause us to collapse.”

In a session of the regional planning and building committee held last Thursday, the heads of local governments opposed accepting the Bedouins, saying they suffer from a lack of resources. The committee has not yet made a final decision on the plan.

The time table for implementing the plan and budget for towns receiving residents will be debated only in the next stage of the approval process, in which the public can file objections to the plan and the committee will discuss them.

The mayors’ main complaint against the plan is they were not involved enough in the planning process, said Moti Dotan, the chairman of the Abu Basma Regional Planning and Building Committee. “The committee objects because concrete permanent solutions were not presented, but it will hold consultations with the heads of the local councils,” he said.

The mayor of Kseifa, Abdul Aziz Nasasra, expressed a fear that the growth of the population in the permanent communities would make it very difficult to allocate the resources and infrastructure needed by local residents, on top of the existing housing crisis. “We feel like hostages of the master plan,” he added.

According to a document issued by the Israel Land Authority in April, residents who moved to the permanent towns would receive compensation of 250,000 shekels ($71,600) per person. Those who served in the military or did National Service would receive a grant of 350,000 shekels. In the case of legalizing living arrangements within the unrecognized community, the compensation would be only 125,000 shekels.

The head of the Neveh Midbar Council, Ahmed al-Hushla, called the proposal “preliminary” and said he had no intentions on making things worse for his residents – and recommended using other open areas for the temporary housing.

Residents of the unrecognized communities said they had not been presented with a master plan and that a temporary move is a dead end for them. The plan will lead to the dismantling of Bedouin communities, even if that is not its stated intention. Others said it was part of the plan to move the Bedouin off their land, which they have been living on since before the founding of Israel.

The head of the regional council for the unrecognized communities, Atiya al-Asam, called the temporary housing plan “malicious” and said his council rejected it out of hand. The open and hidden goal of the plan is the forced evacuation of the Bedouin residents, he said.

The Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin said the plan is intended for the urgent evacuation in the case of national infrastructure projects and the need for a quick, temporary move. The plan Is not intended for the regular evacuation of the Bedouin in unrecognized communities to developed neighborhoods, and will be implemented only in exceptional cases in which a quick solution is needed so as not to delay the construction.

Until two years ago such moves were made temporarily without planning permission and building permits – and the goal of the plan is to provide the required legal permissions for the temporary resettlement.