The legalization and recognition of Bedouin villages

As part of this project, Keshet represents, legal and planning wise, two of the Bedouin communities of the Negev Highlands.

Background Information

The legalization and recognition of Bedouin settlements and villages is a socially sensitive, legally complex, and politically controversial issue. Along Road 40, between Ben-Gurion College and Mitzpe Ramon, live approximately 1,250 Israeli Bedouins. Almost all of them are part of the Sarahin and Zayayadin clans that belong to the Al-Azazme tribe. They live in four unrecognized villages: Ramat Tziporim, Abde, the Wadi Hawa triangle, and Wadi Arikha. Keshet Association currently represents and accompanies – with legal assistance and guidance on planning – two Bedouin communities on the Negev Highlands.

Since the mid-20th Century, the State of Israel severely curbed the Bedouins’ of the Negev Highlands in their ability to wander and to settle at liberty. Large tracts of land were declared national nature reserves and prohibited for grazing. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed other, even larger areas, for army training and manoeuvers. Also, the IDF built a massive training facility and base in the area. As a result of these measures, during the 1970s, many Bedouin families were forced to uproot themselves, move out of those lands, and settle closer to Road 40.

The Bedouins’ traditional way of life is inexorably tied to their immediate, unique natural environment. While their current living conditions have become more sedentary, the collective knowledge and legacy of their traditions and way of life are preserved. This is expressed by their expertise in raising livestock, the preservation of traditional handcrafts and artforms, an intimate knowledge of the local flora, in particular of the herbs and medicinal plants that are found in the vicinity. Also, throughout their history and presence in the region, they have demonstrated their keen understanding of what we now call the local “micro-climate,” i.e., the quality and potential of the soil and its water economy. This collective knowledge and experience place these Bedouin communities at the center of any efforts to this environment, while at the same preserving and sustaining it. Historically, the Bedouins’ way of life, traditions, and knowledge are rooted in the ancient semi-nomadic communities that have roamed and inhabited these areas for many centuries. As such, rooted as they are in the region, they are an important resource for the development of local tourism.

Unfortunately, in spite of the many promises, conclusions and decisions made by the Israel governments, throughout the many long years, the re-settlement of the Bedouin was neither formalized nor legalized.

Current plan of legalization

In December 2015, under due pressure of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Defense, the National Central Committee of Planning proposal to establish a single, permanent, recognized village that would include the other three as remote “neighborhoods,” was rejected. In practice, this proposal would have formalized the legal status of the four settlements mentioned above. In practice, they would then be eligible for the extension of services by the state in the area of education, infrastructure, and so forth. Instead, the committee accepted the establishment of a single village in Ramat HaTziporim. The designation of the three other settlements as “areas for the development of tourism”, basically denied the families in these communities the right to live there.

Two years later, in October 2017, as a result of several procedural changes, a decision was made to designate Abde as the permanent settlement, since more than half of the area’s 1,250 inhabitants, as mentioned above, lived within its perimeters.

The Bedouin communities found themselves facing multiple challenges. These challenges ranged from bureaucratic complexities, the discrepancies between the decisions taken and the implementation therefore, the poor communication between the authorities and the local Bedouin, including language barriers, and the poor means that were made available to the communities.

Keshet Association therefore decided to lend the communities of the Wadi Hawa triangle and Wadi Arikha, a helping hand to navigate through the bureaucratic mazes of planning and to assist with the relevant legal issues that arose.

These – official – efforts are currently funded by several families in the communities and by several private supporters. Keshet Association closely follows the developments and represents wherever this is necessary, also in meetings of the various planning committees. It holds regular meetings with the communities’ representatives to report on developments.

Current Status – 2020

Since the general elections of April 2019, and for that matter of two additional sets of elections, the government of Israel is transitory. In practice, this means that none of the a.m. plans and amended plans can be tabled toward a final round of decision-making.

Under a new government, Keshet Association intends to file a motion against the plan to define the Abde village as the only permanent settlement and the three other communities as tourist development hubs.

In its motion, it will argue as follows:

  1. The committee’s current plan needs to be redefined. Its chief purpose needs to be the preservation of the heritage of the Bedouin on the Negev Highlands, recognizing that it is in danger of extinction.
  2. The detailed plans for the permanent settlement and the plans for the three tourism hubs need to be submitted and approved simultaneously, and not in sequence.
  3. Those families and individuals operating the three tourism hubs must be allowed to continue to reside on-site.

Since only a transitional government is in office during this period, it cannot declare the establishment of the settlement and we await the establishment of such a government and its decision in this regard.

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