- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

AL GREN, Israel — Decades of fraught relations between the Israeli government and Bedouin Arabs living in the hardscrabble Negev Desert are coming to a head over a state plan that would expel 30,000 of the nomads from unauthorized tent encampments and shantytowns and move them into some of the country’s most destitute towns.

The Israeli Cabinet recently approved the plan, reflecting growing anxiety that Bedouin are taking over more of the Negev, an inverted triangle in the country’s south crisscrossed with rocky mountains and dry riverbeds and covering more than half of Israel’s land mass.

Bedouin say their unrecognized villages are built on lands that have been theirs for generations.

As citizens of Israel, they claim to be victims of decades of neglect and discrimination and tend to distrust the plan’s declared aim of improving the lot of the country’s poorest population. Many live in tents or flimsy houses and lack even the most basic services.


“The Israeli government’s plan is to concentrate Bedouin on a minimum amount of land after confiscating their land, in cities beset by unemployment and poverty,” said Nuri el-Okbi, head of the Association for the Protection of the Rights of Bedouin. “We will never agree to have our lands taken from us.”

Decades of fraught relations between the Israeli government and Bedouin Arabs living in the hardscrabble Negev Desert are coming to a head over a state plan that would expel 30,000 of the nomads from unauthorized tent encampments and shantytowns and move them into some of the country's most destitute towns. (Associated Press)
Decades of fraught relations between the Israeli government and Bedouin Arabs living ... more >

The program “is making the utmost effort so people don’t have to be uprooted,” said Israel Skop of the Israel Lands Administration, the government agency responsible for implementing the plan.

Mr. Skop said that even those who move will be able to “live according to their cultural norms” on farmland and parcels that would be large enough to accommodate extended families and offer opportunities to continue an agrarian lifestyle.

“We’re accommodating them to an amazing degree,” he said.

About 2,000 Bedouin gathered earlier this month opposite the government’s Bedouin affairs agency in Beersheba, the Negev’s main city, to protest the plan.

“A Bedouin will sit in his tent in the rain … and suffer, but he won’t leave his land,” said Bedouin activist Ali Abu Shcheta, whose village of Al-Gren is set to be demolished under the plan. “They don’t understand the Bedouin mentality.”

Bedouin Arabs, known for their nomadic ways and intricate network of tribal and clan lines, have chafed at state authority across the Middle East. Ties with Israel have been especially complicated.

Most of the 65,000 Bedouin living in the Negev at the time of Israel’s 1948 creation fled or were driven out during fighting over the state’s establishment.

The roughly 15,000 who stayed behind remained in a pocket of the Negev, where they lived under military rule into the 1960s. Since then, the government has attempted to urbanize them in seven Negev communities.

The 180,000 Bedouin of the Negev are about equally divided between the impoverished, crime-ridden towns and the unrecognized villages. The latter occupy about 3 percent of the Negev’s 3 million acres, range from tiny clusters of tents to ramshackle villages.

Because the villages are not recognized, they are not serviced by schools, roads, garbage collection, clinics, sewage systems, running water or electricity. Most people who live there are poorly educated and live in poverty.

Story Continues →