While touring the Negev over the holidays my family and I visited the Boker
Valley Vineyards Farm.
The farm offers accommodation and wine tastings
and is nestled amid the rain-starved rolling hills of the Negev, not far from
David Ben-Gurion’s resting place at Sde Boker.
The wines being produced
in the past decade at places like this and a half by a half-dozen wineries along
the Negev Desert wine route would seem to be a triumph.
That is, until
one starts looking beneath the surface.
THE FAMILY farms in the Negev are
They face endless threats from clerks and bureaucrats that
they will be thrown off their land or that some specific venture they have
developed goes beyond their mandate.
They struggle to receive subsidized
water. At every turn they meet red tape.
Yet right around these same
farms Negev Beduin build an estimated 2,000 illegal structures every year.
According to the Negev Coexistence Forum, which supports the Beduin, in 2002
there were 30,000 illegally built structures. By 2013 there were thought to be
60,000 illegal buildings. They are everywhere in the northern Negev, housing
around 70,000 Beduin.
Although the Beduin complain that they receive
demolition orders, and that between 60-300 structures are demolished every year
after lengthy court battles, the reality is that building illegally in the Negev
is a victory for them.
Consider what the legal route for Negev settlement
has resulted in: The Negev consists of around 12 million dunams of land, nearly
99 percent of which is owned by the Israeli government, with another 5% having
been turned over on long-term leases to citizens living in the large development
towns, such as Beersheba and the Beduin towns like Rahat.
IN 1990 the
Israeli government decided to support the creation of private farms in the Negev
and throughout Israel. 15 million shekels were earmarked to develop tourism in
the Negev in 1992. This was part of a large initiative to foster development in
the Negev. In 2004 Ronald Lauder announced at the IDC conference that “it is our
belief that the Negev offers great opportunities to Israel, as well as great
dangers, because unless we act now, we, the Jewish people, the people of Israel,
will lose a great chance in the Negev.
“The Negev, as many of you know,
is approximately 60% of the Land of Israel, and has about 8% of the Israelis
It is our goal to bring 250,000 people there in the next
five years, and 500,000 people in the next 10 years.” The JNF, along with the
Jewish Agency and the government, agreed to work on the plan and in 2005 a
special minister was appointed to lead the development of the Negev and
In 2006 the government approved NIS 400m. for the National
Strategic Plan for the Development of the Negev. In 2010 Shimon Peres announced
the allocation of NIS 600m. for small- and medium-size businesses in the Negev.
In December 2012 JNF chairman Efi Stenzler announced plans to bring 100,000 new
residents to the Negev.
In July of 2013 the government approved another
five-year plan to throw NIS 500m.
at the Negev. The money goes in, but
what comes out? Law 443 of February 1990 provided for the creation of private
farms and asked the Israel Lands Authority to make state land available for
private individuals and families looking to pioneer businesses.
research in 1991 showed that wine could be grown in the Negev region and a plan
for 32 farms was put forward. In 2002 a joint ministerial committee was created
to examine the issue, after numerous families had heeded the call and poured
money and sweat into the private farms.
Supposedly these new settlements
were central to the plan to develop the Negev.
However, it wasn’t until
2010 that some of the farmers received retroactive permission through an
amendment by the Knesset to a law allowing the ILA to grant them
Even though the 100 farms established throughout Israel (60 in the
Negev, 30 in the Galilee and 10 in the Jerusalem hills), used only 100,000
dunams of land, compared to the Negev Beduin’s illegal structures on some
900,000 dunams of land, environmental groups protested the law allowing the
private farms and SPNI took it all the way to the High Court in 2008.
LAW itself was written in such a way as to keep the farms tiny, allowing for
only up to three residential units, some cabins and small spaces for animals and
tourists. The government policy was contradictory, at one point approving
aspects of the 25 farms along the proposed wine route and negating permissions
for longestablished farms near Beersheba.
A 2008 article in Calcalist by
Dotan Levy described the situation as a chaos with the farms facing different
threats from various regulators. A 2010 paper by Yarden Gazit at the Jerusalem
Institute for Market Studies argued that the government non-policy was harming
the country’s economic interest.
But the government plods along, with
numerous committees and inter-ministerial committees, and ministers and the JNF,
ILA and others all taking their piece of the pie. One might say of the Negev
that it is an example of the exact opposite of Churchill’s famous saying – in
the Negev, never has so little been accomplished by so many with so
If the government had just sold off a third of the Negev through an
Israeli version of the US Homestead Act, which distributed millions of acres to
private farmers in the US in the 19th century, would not it have become more
productive? Why does it take decades of political wrangling to establish a mere
hundred private farms, or to build a community like Karmit, that will house
2,000 families? THE PIPE dream of developing the Negev is predicated on
socialist models from 1950s Israel, with ambitious “five year plans” organized
by “national planning authorities.”
To see the results, just take a tour
of the area. You will rarely find a private home; instead, even though there are
12 million dunams available, people are crammed into apartment
Those few pioneers who built farms on state land will never
have the freedom to do as they please because they will never receive the farms
as private land. Instead they will always live shackled by “managed
development,” always living at the mercy of government inspectors, regulators,
commissions, committees, clerks and commissars.
Illegal developers in the
Negev build thousands of structures a year, while those following the government
“plan” can barely build a single house legally. The story of the Negev
illustrates once again how the Israeli government is holding back the
development of the country.