Beduin women in Rahat, Israel..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The State Comptroller’s report reveals that in the past decade the government has conditioned developing the Beduin villages in the Negev on the residents’ agreement to enter a process of settling land rights, which means waiving their claims to ownership.
The result: after more than a decade since the recognition of the 11 villages included in the al-Kasum and Neve Midbar regional councils, they are still not connected to sewage, water and electricity.
Worse than that is the situation of the still unrecognized villages, whose residents are denied services required by law, such as education and public transportation.
So that about 100,000 citizens are living with very limited infrastructure and basic services.
According to the report, although the villages are under the responsibility of the al-Kasum and Neve Midbar regional councils, the development of infrastructure in their area is in effect in the hands of the government’s Beduin Community Settlement Authority, which refuses to cooperate with the planning institutions and the regional councils. The result: budgets for developing the villages remain unexploited for the most part, and most of the money is invested in enforcement activities to prevent illegal construction.
There is a severe dispute between the Beduin and the government regarding claims of land ownership in the Negev. A solution to the dispute must be found someday – that is crucial to the successful development of the Beduin villages and the entire Negev. The decision to freeze the development of the communities in order to force their residents to agree to a land settlement only pushes that day further off, since it increases the hostility and alienation between the Beduin and the government.
Due to the present policy, there is now an absurd situation in which over 5,000 preschool children have no educational framework. Not only is it illegal, and certainly unjust, to deny them education, but in the long run this also harms the interests of all those involved.
First of all the Beduin, whose children are exposed to dangers on a daily basis, and whose chances for education and employment are undermined, but the state as well, which is losing productive citizens and will have to finance the government allowances on which many of them will depend.
To prevent that from happening, there must be confidence- building measures vis-a-vis Beduin society in the Negev, and basic services must be provided unconditionally.
Kindergartens can and must be built in the unrecognized villages. A mapping project based on Education Ministry statistics, which was conducted by the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages and Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, shows that the government is already operating about 50 kindergartens in 10 unrecognized villages.
In places where kindergartens were built the state succeeded in reaching agreements with those claiming land ownership, without entering a process of settling these claims.
About 200 additional kindergarten classes must be built in the recognized and unrecognized villages.
Appropriate budgets must be allocated for the purpose, and we must prepare for accelerated activity on the part of the planning institutions to approve the project. The main thing is to grant authority to the regional councils in charge of developing the villages, so that they can provide services to all their residents.
The policy of the Beduin Community Settlement Authority is perpetuating the gaps between the Arab Beduin in the Negev and all the rest of the Israeli population, and is increasing the alienation between the citizens and the state. It is evident that this policy considers the issue of land a national issue only – but the situation of the unrecognized villages is first of all a civil and social issue. Neglect of the civil dimension is delaying the overall solution, and is harming all the parties involved.
The Beduin Community Settlement Authority is therefore an obstacle in the path to settling the dispute and solving the problem, and the time has come to transfer its authority to the regional councils. Providing vital services for Beduin society in the Negev without conditioning it on an agreement to a settlement of land claims is a necessary, feasible and vital step on the long road to closing the gaps and integrating the Arab Beduin fully into Israeli society and the Israeli economy.
Yasser Aldgaimeh is the coordinator of education and public transportation in the Regional Council of the Unrecognized Villages. Ofer Dagan is the coordinator of Sikkuy’s Negev Project.