The legalization and recognition of Bedouin villages

Project's Field:Bedouin Communities
Project's Status: Active
Initiation Date: October 2018

Legalizing and recognizing Bedouin settlements and villages is a socially sensitive, legally complex, and politically controversial issue. Along Road 40, between Sde Boker’s Agricultural College and Mitzpe Ramon, live approximately 1,250 Israeli Bedouins. Almost all of them are part of the Sarachin and Zayayadin clans that belong to the Azazme tribe. They live in four unrecognized villages: Ramat Tziporim, Abde, the Wadi Chawa triangle, and Wadi Aricha.

Keshet currently represents and accompanies two Bedouin communities on the Negev Heights with legal assistance and guidance on planning.

Since the mid-20th Century, the State of Israel has severely curbed the Bedouins’ of the Negev Highlands in their ability to wander and 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.

The IDF also constructed a massive training facility and base in the area. During the 1970s, following these measures, many Bedouin families were forced to uproot themselves, move out of those lands, and settle closer to Road 40.

Arikha Bedouin Village (Image by Daniel Bar)

The Bedouin 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, and the herbs and medicinal plants 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 efforts to preserve and sustain this environment. 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. Deeply rooted in the region, they are an important resource for developing local tourism.

Unfortunately, despite the many promises and decisions made by the Israeli government, the re-settlement of the Bedouin was neither formalized nor legalized throughout the years.

Bedouin community protest against home demolition by the Israeli state

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 satellite “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 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, live within its perimeters.

The Bedouin communities find themselves facing multiple challenges. These challenges range from bureaucratic complexities, the discrepancies between the decisions taken and the implementation thereof, the poor communication between the authorities and the local Bedouin, including language barriers, and the poor means available to the communities.

Demonstration banner calling on local council mayors to take responsibility for coexistence in the Negev Highlands

Consequently, Keshet decided to lend the communities of the Nachal Chawa triangle and Wadi Aricha a helping hand to navigate through the bureaucratic mazes of planning and assist with the relevant legal issues that arose.

These efforts were initially funded by several families in the communities and by several private supporters. Keshet follows the developments closely and steps in to represent the Bedouin communities whenever and wherever this is necessary, also in meetings of the various planning committees. It holds regular meetings with the communities’ representatives to report on developments.

Since April 2019, Israel has gone through no less than four sets of elections. For more than two years, the government of Israel was transitory. In practice, this meant that none of the a.m. plans and amended plans could be tabled toward a final round of decision making.

Current Status – 2022

A new Israeli government finally took office in late summer 2021. The ensuing coalition agreements with the Islamic Ra’am party headed by Mansour Abbas resolved to legalize three hitherto unrecognized Bedouin villages: Rachme, near Yerucham; Hasham Azana; near Be’er Sheva, and Abde, opposite the archeological park of Avdat, close to Mitzpe Ramon. As noted above, Abde is designated to become the permanent home of the Bedouin population scattered over the Negev Highlands.

As noted above, from 2015 and onward, Keshet has lobbied the national and local authorities to include three of Abde’s outlying population clusters in the legalization plans. However, in November 2021, the government resolved to define these clusters as “agricultural and tourism hubs” and not as outlying quarters of Abde.

Minister of Interior (Ms) Ayelet Shaked demanded that under the parameters of legalization, at least 70 percent of the area’s Bedouin would settle within the municipal boundaries of Abde.

Keshet will continue and play a pivotal role in the negotiations with the various governmental authorities about the terms under which the inhabitants of the outlying clusters would agree to leave their current homes and settle within the municipal boundaries of Abde itself. Unfortunately, none of the relevant government offices responded to Keshet’s call to begin these negotiations.

The negotiations are to include:

  • A declaration about the preservation of the Bedouin heritage on the Negev Highlands, recognizing that it is in danger of extinction.
  • The deposition and approval of a detailed plan for the establishment of tourism hubs within the framework of the legalization of Abde;
  • An approved plan for the allocated land serving for the Bedouin agricultural and tourism hubs, including residential permits for the Bedouin that operate the touristic projects;
  • The above plans need to be submitted and approved simultaneously, not in sequence.

Since up to 45 percent of the current Bedouin population expects to be involved in these agricultural and touristic projects, it is essential that the negotiations resolve all of the above issues. Without a satisfactory resolution, the regularization of Abde will not come to fruition.

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Meet the people of Keshet

Lecture for groups on environmental and social activism in Mitzpe Ramon and the Negev Highlands

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