Ensuring Equity for Bedouin Communities

5 August 2020

Something new is happening in the Negev that could dramatically improve living conditions in cities, towns, and villages with the lowest income in Israel. For the first time, a Bedouin Treasurers Forum is working with the government on a fairer distribution of government allocations.

This unprecedented Shatil-led collaboration between Bedouin local authorities, government ministries and civil society, has already led to changes in working relationships, attitudes and Bedouin municipal professionals’ beliefs in what they can achieve.

With the support of grants from the Kennedy Leigh Charitable Trust and the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), Shatil designed a model that enables Bedouin municipal treasurers in the Negev to gain the skills and knowledge they need in order to build and implement collaborative strategies for increasing municipal budgets. They are doing this by working closely with the Ministry of Interior in order to make government allocations more accessible to the Bedouin population.

On July 23, a virtual conference was organized in collaboration with the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation (AJEEC), Taking Responsibility for the Future: Arab-Bedouin Municipalities in the Negev Lead Change. Ministry of Interior’s Gilead Shor who attended the conference said, of local Bedouin authorities, “They are taking responsibility, are capable and are leading change.” 120 Bedouin mayors and other municipal officials, government representatives, academics and activists spoke or participated in the conference, which garnered nearly 2,000 online views.

One of the concrete actions that have ensued: Bedouin towns are petitioning the government to enable them to benefit, for the first time, from tax revenue distributions from Be’er Sheva facilities that provide services to all Negev residents.

Members of the Shatil-led Negev Bedouin Treasurers Forum initiated two working groups within the NIF/ Shatil Innovation Laboratory: One to increase municipal budgets through access to a fairer share of non-residential tax revenues; and another to recommend reforms to government policies that will enable Bedouin local authorities to secure greater government allocations. (The Innovation Laboratory aims to develop and implement solutions that address some of the root causes preventing Bedouin socio-economic development, namely the access to and implementation of government funding opportunities.)

On June 14, Bedouin treasurers from the forum sent their recommendations to the Ministry of interior. In preparation for the treasurers’ first-ever advocacy initiative vis-à-vis national-level government officials, Shatil facilitated a simulation for the treasurers in which they rehearsed their presentation and generated responses for anticipated questions from officials. Ministry officials expressed a willingness to adopt several of the treasurers’ recommendations. They also readily agreed to continue to formally cooperate to design and solidify principles for future government plans; and the Ministry initiated the next meeting.

The Treasurers Forum also is investigating ways to improve the emergency management capacities of local authorities to deal with the ongoing coronavirus crisis and with future crises.

Forum member Ahmad El Shami, treasurer of Ar’ara said: “How beautiful, how good that the children of Abraham sit together around one table to learn from the past, work in the present and plan for the future.”

Israel’s 245,000 Negev Bedouin citizens suffer Israel’s lowest standards of living and critical socio-economic disadvantages. Tax income from residential and local commercial properties such as shopping malls, banks, and factories cannot support the service and development needs of the Bedouin local authorities. This has led to a sense of scarcity and competition among the local authorities for resources and government funding. In an effort to address these problems, in 2020, Shatil launched the Advancing Bedouin Social and Economic Development project (also known as Local Power) and formed the Bedouin Treasurers Forum. Working together, the treasurers have been able to strengthen their ability to access increased shares of regional tax revenues, much of which was previously funneled into Jewish municipal budgets.