Unrecognized Bedouin-Arab Villages, Newly Recognized Villages and Planned Towns in the Negev-Naqab, Israel
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Before the state of Israel was founded in 1948, it is estimated that 65,000 to 90,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev area. The main source of livelihood for this semi-nomadic population was cattle, herds, rain-fed agriculture, and commerce. Approximately 80-85 percent of the Naqab Bedouin population became refugees following the war of 1948.
Like other indigenous peoples, the Naqab-Negev Bedouin underwent forced relocation – the 11,000 that remained inside Israel’s borders after 1948 were moved from their ancestral lands into a restricted zone called the Siyag (literally, “the fenced area”), located in the northeastern Negev. Known for its low agricultural fertility, this area constituted only ten percent of the Bedouin’s land prior to 1948. Since the Israeli military authorities – which governed over the entire Arab population living within the borders of Israel until 1966 – forbid the construction of permanent buildings (stone or concrete) in the Siyag, most residents were forced to erect shacks and tents.
Living under Israeli military rule dramatically transformed Bedouin life: “From controllers of the desert region, they became fringe dwellers of a growing, modernizing Beer-Sheva city region,” wrote Israeli professor Oren Yiftachel. With less space for agriculture and grazing, their source of livelihood was severely disrupted. In addition, because of restrictions imposed by the military government, they were not permitted to compete with the Jewish labor market of the new Israeli State. During these 18 years, the processes of dispossession, sedentarization and partial modernization worked to destroy the indigenous Bedouins culture and way of life.
This was, in fact, official Israeli policy: “We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat… Indeed, this will be a radical move which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person… His children would be accustomed to a father who wears trousers, does not carry a Shabaria [the traditional Bedouin knife] and does not search for vermin in public. This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations. Without coercion but with governmental direction… this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear.” (Moshe Dayan, Ha’aretz interview, 31 July 1963).
Bedouin life today
Today, the Negev Bedouin number approximately 190,000 people.
Approximately 50 percent of the Bedouin population live in a large number of so-called “unrecognized” villages. These villages do not appear on Israeli maps or governmental planning documents, have no road signs indicating their existence, and are denied basic services and infrastructure, including paved roads, water, garbage collection, electricity, and schools. Residents of unrecognized villages don’t belong to a municipality, and therefore cannot participate in local elections.
It is illegal to build permanent structures in these villages, and those that do so risk heavy fines and home demolitions. A typical unrecognized Bedouin village consists of between 60 to 600 families – a population of between 500 and 5000 people – that live in tents and shacks.
Some of these villages existed before the establishment of the Israeli State, while others were created in accordance with Military Government’s orders in the 1950s and 60s. Some residents of these villages, who received permission from the State to live in certain areas during the 1950s, are now, more than 50 years later, receiving expulsion orders and seeing their homes demolished.
The other half of the Negev Bedouin population is concentrated in eight government-planned townships, which the Israeli state built in the 1960s in the Siyag area: Hura, Kseifa, Laquia, Arara, Rahat, Segev-Shalom and Tel-Sheva and the new township of Tarabin (south of Rahat). While these townships were intended to create the conditions necessary to provide basic services for the Bedouin population and are heavily subsidized, they were planned without any consideration for traditional Bedouin way of life. Consequently, the forced urbanization of the Bedouin has been disastrous: unemployment rates are disproportionately high, and the Bedouins townships rank among the country’s ten poorest municipalities.
In short, according to professor Oren Yiftachel, “the planned towns evolved quickly into pockets of deprivation, unemployment, dependency, crime and social tensions.” The Bedouins no longer have the space to raise crops and livestock to support themselves, causing further economic distress. Additionally, the Bedouin townships lack the infrastructure that similar Jewish settlements in the Negev have; except for the largest Bedouin town, Rahat, these towns lack sources of employment, public transportation, banks, post offices, public libraries, and places of entertainment.