BICOM Briefing: Unrecognised Bedouin villages

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Key Points

  • The Israeli cabinetin September approved a plan to address the longstanding issues between the state and the Negev Bedouin population over land ownership and the legality of Bedouin villages in the area.
  • The plan includes a 1.2 billion NIS (£205 million) scheme for economic development for the Bedouin population, intended to significantly reduce the economic and social gaps between the Bedouin and Israeli society as a whole.
  • The plan is highly controversial, as it would also require the relocation of approximately 30,000 Bedouin from their homes.

Facts and Figures

  • Over 170,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, comprising 25% of the region’s population. Bedouin have built approximately 50,000 illegal structures in the Negev and build another 1,500 every year.
  • With an annual growth rate of 5.5%, there will be about 320,000 Bedouin in the Negev by 2020.
  • As a result of a relocation and urbanisation scheme in the 1970s, half of the Bedouin population resides in seven urban townships that were established in the 1970s. These were built without sufficient urban policy framework, lacking business districts or industrial zones and are currently the most socioeconomically deprived towns in Israel.
  • The other half of the Bedouin population who resisted sedentarization remained in 45 rural villages. These are not legally recognised by the state and do not receive most public services or basic infrastructure.


Background: Resolving the unrecognised villages problem

  • Consecutive governments since the late 1970s have tried to offer solutions to the Bedouin population residing in unrecognised villages. Several factors make a solution hard to achieve:

o The poor outcomes of the 1970s relocation scheme.

o Maximalist demands on both sides: Bedouin demand full recognition of all settlements built to date; the government rejects this, demanding an eviction of significant numbers.

o Lack of trust: Bedouin Arabs generally have a closer identification with the state than other Arabs, with some serving as volunteers in the IDF. However, the Bedouin community has become increasingly alienated from Israeli society.

The most far reaching effort to resolve the problem was made by the governmental commission, headed by former Chief Justice Eliezer Goldberg in 2008, which included Bedouin representatives. Its report, which was welcomed at the time, recommended:

o Recognition of all Bedouin villages that meet minimal requirements of population (over 50 families) and planning.

o Establish a committee to formally recognise illegally constructed buildings in Bedouin villages.

o Compensate those who will be evicted, either monetarily or through alternative land.

o Recognition of the Bedouin’ historical connection to the land and the need to integrate them into the fabric of Israelis society.

The government’s plan

  • The Netanyahu government appointed an inter-ministerial team to examine the implementation of the Goldberg Report. The team’s report was approved by the cabinet in September 2011.
  • The government plan, announced on 11 September 2011, outlined four basic tenets:

o The Relocation of about 30,000 Bedouin from scattered settlements in areas where land has been earmarked for other purposes, to alternative places to live in nearby areas.

o A plan for economic development for the Bedouin population on the ground. A 1.2 billion NIS (£205 million) programme is intended to significantly reduce the economic and social gaps between the Bedouin population in the Negev and Israeli society as a whole, and to bring about a better integration of Bedouin in Israeli society. It intends to focus on the advancement of women and youth employment, and the development of supporting infrastructure.

o An arrangement for claims of land ownership. The plan includes financial compensation for people who can prove they have worked the land they lay claim to or offers alternative land. However, some 20,000 to 30,000 Bedouin from 13 unrecognised communities will have to move to existing recognised towns. This is around 15% of the total Bedouin community living in the Negev.

o A framework for implementation and enforcement within a fixed time period.

  • Minister Benny Begin was appointed by the cabinet to coordinate public and Bedouin population feedback on the issue in anticipation of formulating new legislation.
  • NGO and representatives of the Bedouin community have criticised the Government plan for several important changes to the Goldberg Report. Criticisms include:

o Particular anger at the intension to relocate 30,000 people to the old townships.

o Legalisation will only apply to areas east of Road 40 (a major highway running through the area).

o No new Bedouin localities will be planned.

o Only claims made before 1979 will be eligible to be included in the legalisation agreement.

o The planning of alternative residential solutions will be conditioned on prior agreement to relocate.

o It does not call for a solution to be agreed upon by the Bedouin community and does not adhere to the Goldberg Report’s recommendation to avoid housing demolition until a solution is found.