An important conference earlier this month on the struggle for the recognition of Bedouin villages brought together Israelis leaders from politics, media, and the NGO sector.
For the residents and leaders of Wadi el Na’am, one of the largest unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev region, this was the perfect opportunity to announce some exciting news: after two decades of struggle, the National Planning Council has formally recommended that the government recognize this village of 4,000 residents.
This victory is an important step towards providing vital services for Israel’s Bedouin citizens. Southern Israel is home to about 45 unrecognized Bedouin villages which are not connected to vital infrastructure such as electricity, water, plumbing, and garbage collection. Schools and roads are substandard in these villages and home demolitions occur regularly, since it is nearly impossible for residents to receive building permits.
Knesset Members Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List) took part in the conference, lending their vocal support to the struggle for equality in the Negev. Former MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash), chair of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, stressed that shelter, basic services, and infrastructure are basic rights and that the challenges faced by the Bedouin community are a concern for all of Israel’s Arab citizens.
Conference participants also noted that for Bedouin villages, recognition does not guarantee equality. For example, although the village of Um Batin received official recognition 10 years ago, the village still does not have proper roads or electricity, and sewage from nearby settlements in the Hebron hills flows through a stream that cuts through the middle of the village.
With respect to the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, residents spoke about the government’s threats to forcibly move them out of their homes to make room for a new Jewish town, to be called Hiran. Despite the hostility, Umm al-Hiran residents expressed their openness to alternative solutions and their desire to be integrated into the new community.
Ben Gurion University political geography professor Oren Yiftachel presented an alternative plan for recognition and emphasized the importance of a positive — rather than just an oppositional — stance and urban planner Nili Baruch of Bimkom presented the current official planning status of the greater Be’er Sheva area, noting that the government is planning to build three new Bedouin communities as well as 24 new Jewish settlements, some of them on the lands of the unrecognized Bedouin villages.
The conference was convened by Shatil and the Council for Unrecognized Villages and was held in collaboration with NIF grantees, the Al-Huquq Center for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI,) Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and the heads of local committees.