Route 6 Extension Will Force Hundreds of Bedouin From Homes, NGOs Say

A coalition of Israeli non-governmental organizations warned the High Court of Justice that plans to expand the Trans-Israel Highway southward into the Negev will force more than 3,000 Bedouin from their homes.

The groups, which include the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom and the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, filed a petition last week claiming that the government approved the route without taking into consideration Bedouin settlement in the region.

The organizations noted in their petition that some of the homes that will have to be evacuated are located in officially recognized villages.

The petition names the Interior Ministry, the Transportation Ministry and various state planning agencies as defendants in the case. The southern portion of the Trans-Israel Highway, also known as Route 6, is slated to extend from Lahavim Junction just north of Be'er Sheva to Hanegev junction, near Yeruham.

The NGOs seek a conditional order from the court that would require the state to explain why it hasn't canceled plans for the highway's construction.

The portion of the highway in question, which is known as Section 21, is considered an important element of the government's development program for the Negev, which dovetails with existing plans for a large-scale training facility for the Israel Defense Forces near the southern terminus of the road.

Yet the designated footprint of the plans currently encompasses numerous Bedouin population centers, most of which are villages that are not recognized by the state.

The Bedouin village of Um Batin.
Ilan Assayag

According to Bimkom, the planned route of the highway will force the state to condemn 400 structures which include residential dwellings, agricultural structures and tents. In addition, 200 structures that sit adjacent to the planned route will almost certainly be adversely affected, according to Bimkom.

Among the villages likely to be harmed by the planned highway are Al-Mas'adiya, Al-Garin, Khirbat al-Watan, Bir al-Hamam, Khashem Zana, Sawin, a-Shahabi, Wadi al-Na'am, and Al-Mashash.

The petitioners also argued that the extended section of the highway will hamper the development of the village of Um Batin, which received state recognition.

The group said that approval for the highway was issued before the state extended its recognition to some of the Bedouin villages.