(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Beduin residents and human rights organizations recently petitioned the High Court of Justice to reject a government-approved plan to extend the Trans-Israel Highway/Route 6 because it would allegedly cause serious dislocation to some 3,000 Beduin living in eight villages along the route, which extends for 43 kilometers from the Lehavim junction to the Negev junction northwest of Yeroham.
The petitioners, Atiya Elatamin, Jamal Zakika, the Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that in approving the route of this section of the highway, the planning authorities had almost totally disregarded its effects on the Beduin communities.
They also charged that the plan ignored two other state-backed procedures dealing with the future of the unrecognized Beduin villages and would create a fait accompli that would prevent any other solution to the issue, at least as far as these villages were concerned.
The villages affected by the route of Highway 6 include El-Masadiya, Algrin, Khirbat Alwattan, Bir Alhamam, Hishem Zane, Wadi el-Naam and Wadi el-Mashash. All of these villages are unrecognized and most of them existed before the state’s establishment in 1948. The villages each has a population ranging from 1,400 to 5,000. In addition, the highway extension would affect Umm Batin, a village in the Abu Basma Regional Council that the state recognized in 1999.
According to Cesar Yudkin, a planner for Bimkom, the district planning committee and its subcommittees “did not conduct a genuine and serious discussion of the implications of the plan and the future of the Beduin population living along the route.”
For example, 1,400 people live in Hisham Zane, which was settled before 1948. It includes an ancient cemetery, ancient water holes to collect rainwater, a cave to protect the herds and the ruins of ancient houses. In recent years, the community has built a playground and operates a pre-kindergarten and after-school youth clubs. The villagers built a mosque 10 years ago.
“In light of the approval of the plan to extend Highway 6 southwards, there is no question that the life of the community is in danger,” wrote the petitioners’ attorney, Gil Gan-Mor.
Gan-Mor added that the approval of the extension undermines two legal procedures currently underway. The first involves objections by Beduin to the outline plan for the metropolitan Beersheba area, which includes all or most of the unrecognized villages. The plan was deposited and opened to responses from the public on December 26, 2006. Many Beduin residents and human rights organizations filed objections, demanding changes in the plan and recognition of the unrecognized villages.
The planning committee has still not announced its decisions on these objections. If it accepts some of them, it could affect the route of the highway. But if the highway is built before the objections are taken into consideration, it could render moot the planning committee’s decisions.
The same holds true for the findings and recommendations of the
Goldberg Committee, which was headed by former Supreme Court justice
and current Judges Ombudsman Eliezer Goldberg. The government appointed
Goldberg to head a committee to deal with the dispute between the state
and the Beduin over the unrecognized villages and compensation for land
taken over by the state.
In December 2008, Goldberg submitted his findings, which included a
recommendation to recognize as many villages as possible and to prefer
that solution to uprooting them. The government approved the report and
appointed a government official to head a committee to implement the
recommendations. The committee is still at work.
“The proper thing for the state authorities in general and the planning
institutions in particular to do is to preserve as many planning
alternatives as possible so as not to hurt the chances for implementing
the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee, Bimkom’s Yudkin wrote.s