The Arab-Bedouins are a unique Palestinian community that has lived in the Negev (Israel’s Southern Region) for centuries. In 1948, they constituted the vast majority of the population of the Negev, numbering approximately 70,000 people. After the establishment of Israel, there were only about 11,000 Arab-Bedouins left in the Negev, the rest having left or been expelled to Jordan and Egypt. British mandate records list 12,577,000 dunams of land in the Negev as used by the Arab-Bedouins. However, at present, they hold only 550 square kilometers
Following the 1948 war, Israeli authorities did not recognize the Arab-Bedouins` traditional ownership rights. Dispossessed of the lands they had owned for centuries, the 160,000 Arab-Bedouins (27% of the Negev population) are now the most disadvantaged citizens in Israel. Almost half of the Arab-Bedouin citizens live in seven failing government-planned towns. The remainder live in 45 villages that are unrecognized by the government, and do not receive basic services.
In the early 1950s, the Arab-Bedouins were concentrated from the entire Negev area into a tight geographical area in the Central-North part of the Negev called the ‘Seyag’. Most of the population was internally transferred from the northwest part of the Negev for “security reasons.” They were promised that after six months they would be able to return to their land. To this day they have not been allowed to go back, live on or use their land.
In 1980, following the peace agreement with Egypt, which required evacuation of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from the Sinai Peninsula, Israel expelled some 5,000 Arab-Bedouins from the area of Tel Malhatah, within the Seyag area, to make way for the Nevatim military airport. In the process, the IDF seized 65 square kilometers. The compensation offered to the Arab-Bedouins was a fraction of that offered at the same time to Jewish citizens who were resettled from the Sinai Peninsula.
Today, more than 24% of the lands claimed by the Arab-Bedouins as their ancestral lands are located in declared military zones. For example: ‘Ayanim’, located east of Hura, was declared a military zone in July 2000 and encompasses a territory of 50 square kilometers, of which 13 square kilometers are claimed by the Arab-Bedouins. The military zone located north of Dimona was declared as such in 1996 over a territory of 140 square kilometers. Arab-Bedouins claim 39 square kilometers of that territory. In both zones, there are no actual military facilities.
In November 2005, Israel adopted a Strategic Plan for Negev Development. As part of this plan, five different military training bases will be relocated from central Israel to the Negev. This will jeopardize future settlement solution for the Arab-Bedouin community in the Negev.