Israel Approves Controversial New Bedouin Town in Negev Desert

Wadi al-Naam's residents, who will have to move to new town, petition top court against planning process, after housing cabinet okays new community.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel approved on Monday a new Bedouin town in the northern Negev, south of the existing Bedouin town of Segev Shalom.

Some 7,000 current residents of the unrecognized village of Wadi al-Na'am will have to move to the new town, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel, who is responsible for the Bedouin development and settlement authority, told Haaretz after the housing cabinet voted in favor of the new community. In addition, despite previous opposition by residents, the new town will be part of the Segev Shalom municipality. 

The new town will house on some 6,000 dunams (1,500 acres) people living on about 70,000 dunams of land, said Ariel. Planners for Planning Rights, or Bimkom, a nonprofit organization, however claims the present residents of Wadi al-Na'am live on only 30,000 dunams of land.

The residents of Wadi al-Na'am have petitioned the High Court of Justice, along with Bimkom and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, against the planning process, which they say has as its goal to expand Segev Shalom to include the residents of Wadi al-Na'am. 

In April 20015, the High Court ordered the petitioners to present planning alternatives. In response, they presented plans for a new 15,000 dunam town that would be independent from Segev Shalom. In addition they asked for agricultural land for the farmers who would live in the new town.

In January, the National Planning and Building Council recommended the construction of the new town, though it also recommended setting the boundaries in cooperation with the residents.  

Local residents say that while they are aware of the new plan for the town, they have not been consulted or updated and are waiting to see the actual decision before responding. 

Ariel said the decision was made in cooperation with the residents, and they are pleased with the plan.