A group of families intent on settling the Negev – a process Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion encouraged to “make the desert bloom” – is facing eviction from their temporary home of seven years as their attempt to establish a settlement in Israel’s South continues to face hurdles.
Garin Harel is a collective of 130 people who aim to establish an “alternative tourism-based Kibbutz” in the Negev desert. The Harel community was originally established in the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council when it illegally settled on Mount Eldad after waiting seven years for the government to settle its members in the Negev.
The regional council fought the establishment of the community on Mount Eldad at the time, warning that the settlement would upset a sensitive ecological site. The council also claimed that the garin had been offered a number of options for settling in the Negev, and that it had rejected all the offers. The group claimed that it had expressed support for a number of the offers but that they had fallen through because of opposition from another side.
While the community was eventually evicted peacefully from Mount Eldad and resettled in 2014 at its current location near the Gaza border community of Tzohar in the Eshkol Regional Council, it seems that history is repeating itself.
Garin Harel currently lives in a caravan neighborhood in an unused area that belongs to the town of Tzohar, but is facing eviction now that the contract that brought them to live there temporarily is coming to an end.
Rona Levin, a member of the garin, called the current situation “absurd,” and that all Harel wants is to settle the Negev.
“It’s not just that they aren’t succeeding in finding a location, but even when they manage to find a location we get stuck in all sorts of obstacles that they’re not managing to get over,” said Levin. “Essentially, the situation is that the state says that it is interested in settling the Negev, wants to settle us, brought us here for a temporary camp, and for eight years they have not managed to settle us – and now the regional council is coming and saying: ‘We want this land. We want to sell the land for real estate purposes.’ And demanding that we leave.”
Levin stressed that the garin wants more than anyone to leave and form a settlement, but simply has no place to go. According to her, the regional council wants the community to dissolve and split into a number of locations.
“To tell us ‘each person split up and go live in some random’ place is not a solution,” Levin said. “There is a lot of talk about settling the Negev and bringing youth. We’re already a big community; we’re already 160 people. There are plenty of towns in the Negev that are much smaller than what we are today. These are far-off places where life isn’t simple and we need to settle them.
“We are seeing that there’s a very big gap between words and action. It cannot be that for eight years they have not managed to find a place to settle us. We’re already 15 years into this process.”
Levin referred to the Mount Eldad settlement they had established, saying that they formed the community there as a protest in order to show that they were serious. “We’re ready to invest; we want to invest,” she said. “Only after we did this did they treat us seriously and find us this place where we’re currently at.”
DESPITE THE claims by Garin Harel, the Settlement Division mirrored the claims made during the Mount Eldad situation in 2013, saying that they have offered them “innumerable solutions,” and that there was even one offer currently on the table for a town in Neve Harif.
The Eshkol Regional Council, where the garin currently lives, said that it has tried to persuade its members to be absorbed into towns within the council.
“Unfortunately, the members of the garin have repeatedly expressed their refusal to settle in the cluster, and have stated that they do not see the council as a horizon for their permanent residence and tourism development, as they put it,” the council said in a statement, and that the garin “dwells on the ground of Tzohar illegally and in illegal structures to this day.”
The council said that the date by which Garin Harel was meant to vacate the area has already passed, and that in accordance with the law and because of a need to open the land for the growth of Tzohar, it had issued eviction notices to the community, while working to help its members find an alternative permanent residence.