Israel: recognition of Bedouin villages will be blocked by right-wing conditions

Sheikh Sayiah al-Tur, the Bedouin head of an 'unauthorised village' of Al-Araqib in the Naqab-Negeve, near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva (Hazem Bader - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  November 3, 2021

The Israeli government today legalized three “unrecognized” Palestinian Bedouin villages in the southern Negev-Naqab desert. However, the terms stipulated by right-wing members of Naftali Bennett’s government will make formal recognition an impossibility, welfare groups have warned.

The three villages are Rakhma, Hashm al-Zena, and Abda, said Yair Maayan, who directs a government office regulating Bedouin affairs. Improving the living conditions of the Negev Bedouin villagers was a major campaign pushed by the United Arab List of Knesset members.

According to Haaretz, though, social welfare organizations in touch with the Israeli Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services Ministry revealed that right-wing members of Bennett’s government are insisting that 70 per cent of the Bedouin residents must agree to move within the boundaries of the newly-recognized villages, which have not yet been set. Moreover, another requirement is that within 60 days, the authorities must consider curbing the boundaries of the existing permanent Bedouin communities.

The welfare groups have written to Minister Meir Cohen and his ministry’s director-general, urging them to amend without delay the “problematic conditions that could in practice prevent carrying out the recognition” and “doom it to failure”. The groups pointed out that, “It’s difficult to ignore the deep discrimination enshrined in this provision that necessarily links the recognition of new Palestinian communities and the residents’ ownership of the land, to Palestinian citizens forgoing of other lands.”

They added that the Palestinian Bedouin “have suffered and are still suffering from severe discrimination – despite the recognition – in government funding and resources.”

Bedouin in the Negev must abide by the same laws as Jewish Israeli citizens, but although they pay taxes they do not enjoy the same rights and services as Jews. The state has refused repeatedly to connect their towns to the national grid, water supplies, and other essential amenities.

The social welfare groups also condemned the time limit for reducing the villages’ permanent borders, describing it as a completely separate issue.

“Our effort to support the villages in the recognition and planning processes shows that they last for many years and involve considerable challenges,” they wrote. “The time frame combined with the conditions imposed by the cabinet resolution almost certainly doom it to failure.”