Bedouin Communities Oppose Israel's Plan for New Negev Town

Plan for 500 housing units in Israel's south for Bedouins from unrecognized villages aims to minimize number of families uprooted, but residents set for relocation are poised to fight it

An unrecognized Bedouin village, in 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel's National Planning and Building Council has approved a new town earmarked for Bedouins, to be built in the southern Negev Desert. The new town, in the area of Avdat, is planned to have 500 housing units built on 1,500 dunams (371 acres) of land. 

According to the plan, Bedouin families residing in Ramat Tziporim, Wadi Aricha, and Nahal Hava will move to the Avdat area, where the majority of Bedouin population is concentrated. In addition, several smaller Bedouin settlements will also be evacuated to the new community.

Currently, 500 Bedouins are living in the Avdat area, while less than 200 Bedouins are living in other Bedouin towns.

The residents of Ramat Tziporim, where a new community was initially planned to be built, are opposing the plan and have announced they would fight it.    

Building in Avdat would minimize the number of families that would be uprooted from unrecognized Bedouin villages, as many – about 400 people – already live in Avdat. Families set to move to the new town will be coming mainly from three major sites considered by the state illegally built.

Salem Avi Wahaj, who lives in Avdat, said about 90 percent of the families agree to the plan, but "there will always be about 10 percent who don’t." However, the details of the move haven’t been discussed yet: “I still don’t know when and how it will happen, but I know everyone agrees. The fact is that nobody has filed objections.”

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A Ramat Tziporim resident, Hilal Abu Jalidan, told Haaretz that the residents are against the planned evacuation, which they intend to fight.
 
"We'll take the matter to court if needed. They promised us to establish  a community here, but then they decided something else. We are not against the establishment of the community in Avdat, but we don't want to move there," Jalidan said.  

The new plan, which replaces a previous one for Ramat Tziporim, was launched by Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, and was seconded by the governmental Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouins in the Negev.

The site is seven kilometers south of the Midreshet Ben-Gurion school and 2.5 kilometers north of the ancient city of Avdat. It already has a building that can serve as a school and clinic. Plans also include sites for agriculture and tourism at Ramat Tziporim, Nahal Hava and Wadi Aricha.

Eran Doron, the head of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, told Haaretz that the council also approved allocating 1000 dunams of land for farming by families living in Avdat.

This is a banner day for the Bedouins of the Negev, said Yair Maayan, director general of the Bedouin Settlement Authority, whose mandate is to narrow the gaps between Bedouin society and the rest of Israeli society, including in respect to education, employment and town development.

Shmulik David from the Shatil NGO, who accompanies the residents of Ramat Tziporim, said that negotiations between the residents and the state were held in 2002, resulting in the state's approval to establish a community in Ramat Tziporim in 2015.

"The residents demand that a community be legally established in Ramat Tziporim," David said, adding that the decision to concentrate all the Bedouins in one place is discriminatory.

"Four Jews are entitled to 300-dunam farms, and the Bedouins, whose ancestors are buried here, have no rights and must be crowded into the avdat area," he added.