Israel to Demolish Playground in Unrecognized Bedouin Village

The state has no plans to evacuate Rakhma, a community of 850 people in Israel's south, but it blocks any new construction, such as that of a children's playground deemed a 'public safety hazard' by inspectors

A demolition order is seen at a playground in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Rakhma, southern Israel, May 20, 2019.
Jumah Saghaira

Israel issued on Sunday a demolition order for a children's playground in an unrecognized Bedouin village in southern Israel, even though the state has no plans to evacuate the community.

Odeh Zanoun, head of the residents’ committee in Rahkhma, says that the playground equipment was put up two years ago by one of the residents near his home.

“Anyone who wants to come can do so, he was doing us a favor,” he said. “From afternoon until evening the kids have nothing to do, they sit at home. So they made them some poles and swings, and even that they want to demolish.”

>> Read more: Demolitions of unauthorized Bedouin buildings on the rise

The Land Administration said "The playground equipment was erected on state lands without a permit and without coordination, and worse, without any safety certification, together with additional illegal construction. This is a hazard that constitutes trespassing and a public safety hazard."

Rakhma is home to some 850 people, who are spread over 16 plots of land near the Israeli town of Yeruham, about 35 km south of Be'er Sheva in the Negev Desert.

In 2009, authorities demolished a preschool in the village, only to later build another one following a court petition. It has no educational institutions other than preschools and there is no playground or community center, and the village's children must travel long distances to school.

Data gathered by the Education Ministry shows a clear gap in access to education between Bedouins and the general Israeli public.

A few years ago, Israeli authorities halted processes to officially recognize the village, and its future remains unclear. Israeli policy on unrecognized Bedouin communities in recent years has been to only demolish new construction, but leave existing structures in place.

As a result, most structures in the village – all considered illegally built under Israeli law – are not at risk of demolition, but no new homes can be built.

A plan conceived in 2014 to erect a new town for Bedouin residents of the area won the support of the Yeruham Local Council and received broad support from government ministries and officials.

However, it had been brought to a halt shortly after right-wing lawmaker Uri Ariel was made government minister in charge of dealing with Israel's Bedouins and his close associate, Yair Maayan, was made director general of the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouins in the Negev.

Maayan has been pushing to move Bedouins from Rakhma and other unrecognized communities in the area to existing towns, rather than establish a new one.