Upscale Negev Suburb Hopes to Drive Away Bedouin by Planting Trees

Omer, near Be'er Sheva, plans to surround the community with forests, making it the greenest part of Israel.

Two months ago the local council in Omer, a relatively wealthy community east of Be'er Sheva, undertook a monumental project which will eventually surround the community with forests, making it the greenest community in Israel. Through the project, however, the local authorities also hope to discourage the incursion of Bedouin in the area who have been settling on open land in the town. Of the 20,000 dunams within the municipal limits of Omer, only about 5,000 are built upon.

The plan calls for the planting of trees over 10,000 dunams of land, 2,000 dunams of which the Jewish National Fund has already planted. Seven hundred dunams of olive trees were planted on the outskirts of town by evacuees from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. Officials in Omer call the forestation plan unprecedented and say that the hope to complete the project by 2013.

Omer Local Council chairman Pini Badash points to three primary goals in planting the ring of forest: To assert control over the land within Omer's municipal boundaries, to transform Omer into the greenest place in Israel, and to attract tourism.

The plan calls for the construction of a hotel and golf course in Omer.

At the same time that the afforestation program was developed, local authorities in Omer built a sewage treatment plant. Purified waste water from the facility will greatly reduce the cost of irrigating the new forests.

Hundreds of Bedouin who live in areas designated for afforestation refuse to divulge their names because they live in illegal encampments, many of which are slated for demolition. One of the Bedouin said in reaction to the municipal plan that Omer council chairman Pini Badash "can do what he wants. We will come back here in any event, but then it will be much nicer with the trees."

Omer local council spokesman Nissim Nir noted, however, that Bedouin generally accord great respect to trees. He said they will not return to an area once trees are planted there.