Israel to Let Unrecognized Bedouin Village Have School After Years of Civil Struggle

Lands Authority has told residents of Rahma that an elementary school will be established for the village's children, but it too will be a temporary structure

Children playing at the Rahma village in Israel's south.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

The residents of the unrecognized southern Bedouin village of Rahma were told by Israel's Lands Authority recently that the children of the village will finally get an elementary school where they can learn, after 13 years of civil struggle.

The school, which will be established in the coming weeks, will be a temporary campus made up of mobile homes, because the state will not agree to build any new structures in the unrecognized villages.

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The elementary school will be set up in a firing zone near the Negev town of Yeruham, where according the Israeli military drills are regularly held. Three weeks ago, the Israel Defense Forces agreed to give up a small portion of the firing zone so the school could be built.

The Bedouin Development and Settlement Authority in the Negev said work would begin shortly and that the school would begin to operate at the beginning of the coming school year.

The village is home to some 850 residents living in 16 areas near Yeruham, state data shows. According to the residents, until now the village children had been forced to commute to schools in the villages of Wadi al-Naam and Qasr al-Sir, which are 26 kilometers away from the village. The village does have a preschool that was built following a legal battle took place a decade ago, after the state in 2009 demolished a preschool that had been built without a permit.

Odeh Zaun alongside Yael Agmon and her grandchildren.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Despite the upcoming establishment of the school, the future of the village is uncertain because in recent years, the state has backtracked from a plan to set up a new community for the residents. A plan was drawn up for this in 2014, and it was supported by the Yeruham Local Council, government ministries and professionals. However, after Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel was appointed minister in charge of Bedouin affairs and Yair Maayan was named director-general of the Bedouin Authority, the building process was halted, and instead it was suggested to residents to move to other communities.

The establishment of the school was also pushed for by Jewish residents of the nearby Yeruham. In 2010, a civilian group was founded in the wake of the demolition of the illegally-built preschool; its goal was to promote joint interests of Yeruham and Rahma residents. The group managed to gain a wide consensus that the school should be built.

About two months ago, the village held a protest demanding that the school at last be established. Despite initial approval that was granted, the future of the school remained unclear. The head of the Yeruham Local Council had promised to demand answers from the Defense Ministry, which helped set matters in motion.

Two main players in the struggle to set up the school are Rahma residents Odeh Zaun (60) and Yael Agmon (69), who has been living in Yeruham for the past decade. "The families are happy, now they will have a school close to home and instead of returning at 4 P.M. the students will be back at 2:30 P.M," Zaun said. According to him, despite the fact that the school at Qasr al-Sir is not far from the village, the children arrive home late because they are the last to be dropped off a bus that travels through several villages.