The Negev Beduin received some ministerial attention on Tuesday as Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom headed south, to inaugurate the opening of three major business initiatives that stand to help the largely underprivileged minority.
The day started with the opening of a 70-dunam (7 hectare) poultry processing plant in the Beduin city of Segev Shalom. The plant, owned by Ofe Oz, is slated to employ 600 workers. The owners invested NIS 170 million in the construction of the plant, NIS 25 million of it from government grants.
“The State of Israel has wronged the Beduin and today we are beginning to repay our debt,” said Ben-Eliezer at the inauguration ceremony.
“They no longer have to prove their loyalty, they already have,” he said. “The way to remove them from the cycle of violence and crime and integrate them into the state, is by involving them in the labor force and it’s the responsibility of the state to do it.”
According to statistics collected by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the employment rate among the Beduin is 35 percent, the lowest of any sector in Israeli society.
“The Beduin population can contribute greatly to the Israeli economy and we must realize this potential,” said Ben-Eliezer.
“The low participation rate of this population in the labor force hurts, not only the Beduin, but the economy, its growth potential and the state as a whole. Growing employment inequality causes significant social issues and endangers the possibility of shared life here in Israel.”
At noon, the ministers attended the launching of a new Beduin Employment Promotion Center in the village of Hura, east of Beersheba. The Hura center, along with another one to be opened in the town of Abu Basma, are pilot projects intended to prepare the ground for six more centers in all the Beduin cities.
The aim of the centers is to help train Beduin and assist them in job placement in new and existing businesses.
The Hura center’s director, Mahmoud al-Amur, said he hopes to help the
population overcome what he described as “deep cultural differences and
ingrained discrimination,” and find their place in the workforce.
“The integration of the Beduin population is vital for the development of the Negev,” said Shalom.
“The Beduin population is the youngest in Israel. If we want to raise
income levels we have to start with improving education. Better
education will open doors, especially for Beduin women, who are the
least employed sector of the population.”
Shalom went on to speak of the importance of the employment centers in
raising the standards of living, reducing birthrates and modernizing
Beduin society. He also took responsibility for leading employers to
the Negev, saying that unless they agreed to come, the employment
centers would be of little use.
The last stop on the southern tour was the inauguration of a new
industrial park on the outskirts of the Beduin city of Rahat. The
3,500-dunam industrial zone, is a joint initiative of Rahat, the
Lahavim Local Council and the regional authority of Bnei Shimon, and is
the first Jewish-Beduin project of its kind.
Currently in the early stages of development, the industrial park,
called Idan Hanegev (“the Negev era”) is to host 130 factories, a
healthcare facility, a professional training college, a commercial and
recreation center and a convention center.
Its planners hope that the park’s proximity to Beersheba, Route 6 and
the Lahavim train station will draw major companies to open facilities
there. The prospects of low municipal taxes and state subsidies should
also prove attractive. Eighteen companies have purchased plots so far.
Manufacturer’s Association President Shraga Brosh pledged to encourage
Israeli industry leaders to move their operations to the Negev.
“We have to bring them here at any price. I hope the industrialists
will leave the center in favor of the periphery. By doing so we will
realize [David] Ben Gurion’s dream of making the wilderness blossom,”
Not everyone was so optimistic, however. Salame el-Tur Almalchi, a Beduin from Rahat, said he anticipated bloodshed.
“The Beduin will not allow business to be conducted as usual. Factories
will burn and blood will be spilled,” said Almalchi. “The park rests on
Beduin lands, but not a single person from Rahat was permitted to set
up shop here.”
Almalchi said things were unusually tense in Rahat recently, with five murders taking place in the last year alone.
“When have you ever heard of a murder in Rahat before?” he asked.
“Things are not good. The ministers can’t just expect to come here and
make everything all right.”