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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs