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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs