Israeli Pro-settler Group Halts Construction of High School for Bedouin Village

Regavim group charges that building the school in the unrecognized village would make the illegal settlement more permanent, but locals say they're adhering to the law

The spot where the high school at al-Zarnug should have been erected, pictured earlier this week.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

A Finance Ministry department that enforces planning and building laws has issued a stop-work order in the construction of a high school in an unrecognized Bedouin village in the south.

The school at al-Zarnug in the Negev is due to consist of prefab housing but has not yet received a permit. In recent days, the pro-settler group Regavim has put pressure on the authorities to halt the school’s construction.

>> Read more: School could be out forever for these Bedouin kids in the West Bank

“Obviously, building a school for the local population is an act that makes illegal settlement more permanent,” the group dedicated to evicting Palestinians said in its petition.

“Moreover, it gives residents an erroneous message that the state is shirking its responsibility for enforcing planning and building laws in this area, in contrast to its commitment in court.”

The Neveh Midbar Regional Council, which is responsible for education at al-Zarnug, had recently started building the prefab school next to the council’s elementary school. The work was to be finished before the opening of the new school year.

Work to construct the high school in the Bedouin village earlier this week.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

According to a committee of local residents, students have been farmed out among 10 schools in the area. According to a source in the district planning and building committee, the council submitted a request for a building permit earlier this month.

Instead, the council received a reply with comments and requests for technical changes in the plan. As a rule, planning and building authorities do not approve construction in unrecognized communities, but permits can be obtained for structures providing essential services.

Amir Abu Qweider, the local committee’s spokesman, told Haaretz: “We welcome the decision to build a high school in our community, a decision made according to the law. The petition filed by Regavim is an attempt to abuse hundreds of students, hurting our attempts to give our children an appropriate education that will give them real opportunities for succeeding in life.”

In recent weeks, Regavim has appealed to various planning and enforcement agencies with its request to halt construction at al-Zarnug. In a petition submitted to the Be’er Sheva District Court on Wednesday, the group said it had not received complete answers on the legal status of the proposed school, and that as far as it knew, no permit had been issued. It said that if there was such a permit, it should be revoked.

The village of al-Zarnug, which consists mainly of the al-Qweider clan, has a population of several thousand people, whom the state plans to move to one of the new neighborhoods in the Bedouin city of Rahat despite the objections of the local council.

In 1998, the state signed an agreement with the al-Qweider family regarding the move to Rahat, but the local council says that over the years the state has not adhered to the agreement, so that now most residents prefer to be recognized at their current location.

Regavim argues that public buildings should not be built on land slated for evacuation. This position is also supported by the director general of the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin, Yair Maayan.

Hanan Afota, the director of the Neveh Midbar Regional Council, said that the decision to build the school was made with the consent of all the relevant authorities, which agreed that it should be ready by the start of the school year.

“When the order was issued, work was halted, and at this point hundreds of students from the al-Qweider clan have nowhere to go on September 1,” he added.

For its part, the Finance Ministry said that “the order was issued to stop work that was being done without a permit, on agricultural land located within a regional planning zone. It should be noted that the order was issued after inquiries were made with the regional planning bureau, a department at the labor ministry that deals with labor laws, and the Education Ministry.”