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Untold suffering in unrecognized villages

By Joseph Algazy , Ha'aretz 11/27/2000

 

For the past five years, Israel's successive governments have over and over again announced plans to set up new towns for the Bedouin living (if one can call it a life) in dozens of unrecognized villages across the Negev. To date, these plans have existed only on paper.Shimon Peres' short lived government announced a significant increase in the number of new Bedouin towns. In January 1999, the Netanyahu government decided to build up to five new towns. Five months later, the District Planning and Construction Committee recommended that the National Council register Regional Outline Plan no. 4, amendment number 24 - which included only three of the proposed five towns: Beit Pelet, Mir'it and Be'er Hail. Earlier this month, a sub-committee approved the recommendation.

Shas this month submitted a Knesset bill calling for the construction of five to seven towns for all the Bedouin currently living in unrecognized villages. But the bill states that once the construction of these towns is completed, "Bedouin will not be allowed to live outside permanent settlements." Due to this clause, the bill has been defined by the regional council of unrecognized villages as a "declaration of war on us."

The High Court of Justice is this week scheduled to hear a petition submitted by the regional council of unrecognized villages, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Forum for Co-existence in the Negev and other organizations, seeking to amend Outline Plan no. 4. Their proposed amendment (no. 14) would require the authorities to plan rural towns for the Bedouin in a number fitting their needs and taking their lifestyle into consideration.

The number of Bedouin in southern Israel is estimated at 120,000, one quarter of the Negev's overall population. Approximately one half of the Negev Bedouin live in the seven towns built for them by the state from 1966 onward, in an attempt to concentrate the Bedouin in as small an area as possible. The remaining half are scattered in some 45 villages not recognized by the state.

The names of these unrecognized villages do not appear on official maps, and they are denied basic services such as running water, electricity, phone lines and public institutions. Many of their children are not vaccinated, do not receive any basic health services supplied to all other children in Israel, and they study in structures unworthy of the name 'school.'

Seemingly, the Bedouin towns enjoy the advantage of such services, but their hasty and negligent construction created the difficult situation they are in today. The imposed process of urbanization caused the Bedouin to lose their traditional sources of income, mainly agriculture, without supplying any alternatives. According to research conducted by Dr. Clinton Bailey, the Bedouin towns lack adequate infrastructure, both physical and financial, and the basic services offered there - mainly in the field of education - are very poor.

The most common and painful measure used by the state to force the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages to move to the towns built for them - which fail to meet their needs, and have in part already turned into slums - is to demolish their houses. Despite the high natural growth in the unrecognized villages, the authorities refuse to grant their residents building permits, deeming all the structures they have built for decades as illegal.

Hundreds of families are thus turned into criminals, heavy fines are levied on them and they are required to tear down what they built with a great deal of effort and pain.

An additional reason for illegal construction among the Bedouin is the fact that to this day, many of their private land disputes with the state have not been resolved.

In legal battles over land ownership, the state takes advantage of the fact that Bedouin who have owned land for generations often cannot prove their title in modern methods, having only traditional proof. In cases in which Bedouin have reached compensation settlements with the state, the sums they receive are usually exceptionally low, compared to financial settlements made with Jews.

The Bedouin in the Negev towns and unrecognized villages are together the poorest and most discriminated-against population in Israel. Up until now, the Bedouin population has shown patience. But as Israel's governments continue to ignore their needs, feelings of alienation from the state increase. The governments' empty promises to build new towns, and their stubborn refusal to supply basic services to the unrecognized villages, only increases the frustration and rage. In the past there have been limited violent protest outbursts. With the passage of time and deterioration in the economic situation, these outbursts could turn into an uprising or Intifada, warn those, like Dr. Bailey, closely monitoring Bedouin society.

 


Source: http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=11/27/00&id=102021

 


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