News / Middle East

Israel's Arab Bedouin Citizens Feel Betrayed by Eviction Plan

Khader Abu al-Kian (R) and his son walk among the rubble of their family's home which was demolished by Israeli authorities in the village of Atir, August 6, 2013.
Khader Abu al-Kian (R) and his son walk among the rubble of their family's home which was demolished by Israeli authorities in the village of Atir, August 6, 2013.

Related Articles

Reuters
Khader Abu al-Kian's dusty village of Atir has never existed on any official map, and now it is disappearing before his eyes.
 
For decades he and his fellow Arab Bedouins eked out a meager existence in the Negev desert, largely under the Israeli government's radar. But soaring property costs and a housing crisis are driving a new appetite in Israel for land and development opportunities, and even the harsh Negev looks good.
 
Israel has already invested around $5.6 billion to construct military bases in the Negev and will build 10 new communities there. The Bedouins will have to make way, a plan they say shows that Arabs are second-class citizens in Israel and is a betrayal given their past efforts to help build up the state.
 
The bulldozers have already been through Atir, demolishing homes and orchards, but Abu al-Kian, 70, refuses to leave.
 
“For 41 years I worked on this land, in the fresh air, for the Ministry of Agriculture and the Jewish National Fund, planting trees and putting out forest fires,” he said, wearing a white scarf on his head cinched with a black cord.
 
“I have citizenship, but they still destroyed my house. Now I have only the shirt on my back. It's like they're saying to me, 'Just leave and go to hell',” he said, his voice shaking.
 
The majority of Israel's 1.6 million Arab citizens dwell in cities and small towns in the north and center. But 200,000 Bedouins live in the southern desert, half in government-built townships and half in 42 ramshackle “unrecognized” villages without running water, electricity or sanitation.
 
A draft law, which will likely come to a final vote after parliament returns from recess in October, expects to have to move some 40,000 Bedouins from many of the unrecognized villages into the seven townships, although some villages will stay.
 
The “Prawer Plan” will compensate many Bedouin with a combination of land and cash and bring them into “the 21st century” by significantly improving their standard of living, according to a government-sponsored report on the draft.
 
The Israeli position is that developing the region provides an opportunity to address the needs of a long neglected segment of the population.
 
“We are determined to narrow the gap (between the Negev and the rest of the country),” spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, told Reuters. “They are citizens of Israel and are entitled to all the opportunities associated with being citizens.”
 
Alienating the communtiy
 
Wadi Na'am, an unrecognized village like Atir, lies down a sunblasted stony track a short drive from the heart of the Negev “wine route”, with leafy Jewish-owned ranches that are popular weekend destinations for wine and cheese tasting.
 
Sitting in his small, concrete home, which a generator-powered fan labors in vain to cool, electrician and village council member Najib Abu Bneiyeh says Israeli policies are alienating the community.
 
Unlike the Arabs of the cities and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the Bedouin traditionally shied away from political activism and have volunteered in small numbers for Israel's army, gaining renown for using ancient tracking skills to guard Israel's frontiers.
 
“Many of us used to volunteer for military service,” Abu Bneiyeh said, looking at the yellowing pictures on the wall of relatives in combat fatigues. “But with the pressure we're put under, the demolitions and the acts of racism we experience, the Arabs are doing this less and less.”
 
One complaint is that the committee drawing up the Prawer Plan, named after top Israeli planning official Ehud Prawer, had no Arab members and did not formally consult with the local representative body of the unrecognized villages.
 
“If the government were to recognize their villages, it would be obligated to provide services,” said Ofer Dagan of the Negev Coexistence Forum, a civil rights group.
 
“But the only way modernisation is offered to the Bedouin is through urban settlements, whereas the Jewish population is allowed a range of rural and agricultural modern settlements.”
 
On Aug. 1, hundreds of people staged protests against the plan at a junction near one of the townships, waving Palestinian flags to show solidarity with those in the occupied territories whom they see as fellow victims of Israel's appetite for land in the form of expanding Jewish settlements.
 
“We are part of the Palestinian nationality as well as citizens of the state of Israel, but the Prawer Plan is depriving our youth of a future,” Abu Bneiyeh said.
 
“We see that they're forcing us to move without giving us a say in how and where we can live, so the protests are a way of resisting.”
 
Townships

The Bedouins of the Negev, called Naqab in Arabic, are descendants of the semi-nomadic Arab tribes that once roamed the desert expanses, herding and farming.
 
Unemployment, crime, the high school drop-out rate and female non-participation in the work force are much higher in the community than in Israeli society at large.
 
Over two-thirds of Negev Bedouin lived below the poverty line in 2007, over four times the rate of Jewish households, according to the National Insurance Institute.
 
In the seven state-recognized townships, 16.2 percent unemployment stood at more than double the national average and only about 2 percent points lower than in the unrecognized villages, the Israeli Employment Service found in 2009.
 
Netanyahu's spokesman Regev acknowledged that previous governments had not done enough to raise the living standards of the Bedouin and said building up the Negev would benefit all Israeli citizens.
 
“The Negev as a whole is underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the country, and as part of the billions of shekels being invested into it, the government has budgeted affirmative action programs which will bring health care, infrastructure and education to the Bedouin community,” he said.
 
The government-sponsored report on the feasibility of the Prawer Plan said the “vast majority” of Bedouins in the illegal villages would not be much affected because the government would recognize some villages, while residents of others would be moving just “several hundred meters” into a township.
 
“By moving to a formal settlement ... families will make it possible for their children to leap in time into the midst of the 21st century,” said the report by former minister Benny Begin. “Their destitution is accompanied by social problems that demand a comprehensive solution.”
 
Israel's outlook can feel distant from the reality of Segev Shalom, a Bedouin township of around 8,000 where the green grass and palm trees planted in the main road median quickly give way to flat dusty expanses, trash fires and groups of idle youths.
 
“It's like a warehouse, a dormitory where people just sleep at night and then go off to jobs on the outside by day,” said Khalil al-Jraibieh, who works in a small state-funded organization that gives job training to young people.
 
“When we look at the Prawer Plan, which we totally reject, we see it as another racist law in a state built on racism.”

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs