Negev Beduin Protest_311.
(photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Following the Jewish National Fund’s announcement at last week’s Sderot
Conference that it would be investing NIS 1 billion toward further Negev
development, Beduin rights advocates have expressed concern that the investment
will deepen already profound rifts between the Jewish and Beduin Negev
JNF chairman Efi Stenzler unveiled plans to invest NIS 1b. in
the next few years toward the construction of thousands of new housing units and
related infrastructural development, in the hope of strengthening the Negev
region and fulfilling a “Zionist vision” by attracting young people to move
there. While the Negev has an area of 1.2 million hectares, or 60 percent, of
Israel’s territory, it is home to only 600,000 people, or 8% of the country’s
population, according to the JNF.
Although the difference in average real
estate in the Center and the Negev was only about 10% in the 1970s, in now
stands at 400%.
The organization will be working to develop the region in
conjunction with architect Shamai Assif, various government ministries, the
Israel Lands Authority, mayors and heads of local councils, regional councils
and settlement movements, the JNF reported.
“The JNF will continue to
help reinforce communities in the Negev,” the statement said, noting that the
group intends to employ the already vibrant Negev population centers as
“anchors” for future development.
Some of the specific plans for the area
include upgrading the number of plots in Karmit from 250 to 700, creating 120
land plots in both Neveh Netzarim and Bnei Netzarim, expanding the Shlomit
temporary camp from about 30 families to 500, and preparing another 32 lots in
Kadesh Barnea – a community established by the JNF. In addition, on Amatzya, a
moshav near Lachish, the JNF is preparing to create 200 housing units for people
evacuated from Gush Katif in 2005, and the organization will be erecting a new
community for about 100 evacuee families near Nir Akiva, according to the
organization. The JNF and its partners will also help develop tourist facilities
in Tzukim, and will prepare the communities of Idan, Paran and Ein Yahav for
further agricultural development.
“This is a plan that is expected to
help change the face of the Negev, encouraging families to move from the center
to the Negev, together with shaping the existing communities, which will lead to
a transformation in the residential experience,” Stenzler said. “All this in
cooperation with heads of councils who are doing a great job and who together
are transforming the region into a center of attraction, and there is hope in
[first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion’s vision of making the desert
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The organization stressed that it is continuing to advance
agricultural infrastructure in the Central Arava region, and said it will be
preparing 5,000 hectares of land for citrus cultivation, in addition to the
1,500 already prepared for that purpose.
As far as the Beduin portions of
the Negev Desert go, the JNF emphasized that it is currently working on many
projects involving this sector, such as the recently completed first stage of
Nahal Gerar Park in Rahat, which amounted to a NIS 1 million
Meanwhile, the organization is also in the process of
establishing recreational infrastructure for Beduin communities, such as the
Lahav Forest for residents of Beersheba, Lehavim, Lakiya and Rahat, as well as
the Yatir Forest for residents of the southern Hebron hills, Hura and Kuseifa,
according to the statement.
But advocates for the Beduin community fear
that the JNF’s development efforts will only further destroy “entire villages,”
as occurred with al- Arakib village in 2010, during a JNF forestation
“There is minimal investment in Beduin communities relative to
the size of the population,” said Haia Noach, executive director of the Negev
Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.
“The JNF’s plan reveals that it is
continuing to not only ignore the reality of the Negev’s diverse population but
inflame the relationship between the Jewish and Beduin communities,” Noach said.
“It is clear that the mission of the JNF is to Judaize the Negev at the expense
of Israel’s Beduin citizens.”
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