The cabinet on Sunday voted to endorse an NIS 3 billion plan for the Beduin sector in an unprecedentedly large infusion of funds over five years for the townships that are at the lowest rung of Israel’s socioeconomic ladder.
But the same five-year plan calls for heightened “law enforcement” – a euphemism for home demolitions – in the unrecognized villages where all housing is considered illegal as trespassing on state land. About half of the Negev’s 240,000 Beduin live in these villages that are not hooked up to water and electricity, and do not have access to roads. Critics charge that the real intent of the government is to relocate Beduin from the unrecognized villages to the townships.
Passage of the plan, whose main architect is Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, comes 10 days after Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) said there is a need to “concentrate the Beduin settlement into permitted areas where there will be building for height and quality of life.”
In a press release, Ariel emphasized that the plan’s unprecedented and generous allocations for local authorities, infrastructure, education and housing were inextricably linked to heightened enforcement against illegal construction.
“We can’t accept the current reality among the Beduin in Israel. The continuation of the situation will harm the State of Israel, Beduin society and the future of the Negev,” he said. “Investment in the Beduin sector alongside standing firm for the rule and implementation of the law is proper and is in the interest of the state and society of Israel. In this manner, Israel’s Beduin citizens will come closer to the State of Israel and the state will come closer to Beduin society.”
Ariel added: “Illegal building harms everyone and by means of a combined operation of supporting education, social and welfare budgets and determined activity against illegal building we will bring the State of Israel closer to Beduin society and return lands to the state.”
Among the plan’s provisions are NIS 783 million for local authorities so that they can provide “appropriate” services to residents, offer more education and welfare services and “strengthen the feeling of belonging of residents,” the press statement said.
NIS 1.14b. is to be allocated to improving school facilities and developing programs to increase success on high school matriculation exams and reduce the drop out rate, the statement added. It said 1,500 classrooms would be added, NIS 47m. would be used to train Beduin teachers and NIS 118m. would go to operating community centers, youth movements, sports activities and computer training.
Ten new industrial zones are to be set up to combat unemployment in the sector, which is currently the highest in the country, the statement said.
A major push is to be made to combat a shortage of public buildings, sport facilities and gyms, the statement said. The plan calls for 25,000 housing units to be created.
Sana Ibn Bari, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, sharply criticized the plan.
“Instead of planning together with the residents they are trying to force a strategy of concentrating population in the existing townships,” she said. “If there was a real intention of developing the Negev they would plan for the unrecognized villages and not just the existing settlements. How can you invest such a large sum while ignoring almost half the population? It’s clear the intention is to invest in the recognized settlements in an effort to prepare infrastructure so that the recognized settlements will absorb [Beduin] from the unrecognized villages. The 25,000 units they speak of are almost certainly intended for the residents of the unrecognized villages. Increased enforcement means massive destruction [of homes] to force residents to relocate against their will to the townships.”