Demolitions policy takes toll on Beduin

There are about 120,000 Beduin living in 46 unrecognized villages.

Beduin women sit beside ruins from of their homes in Umm el-Hiran, which was destroyed in January 2017  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Beduin women sit beside ruins from of their homes in Umm el-Hiran, which was destroyed in January 2017
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
A devastating crackdown on illegal building in the Negev that is part of a plan to force Beduin from unrecognized villages into towns is hitting home, with government statistics showing a doubling in the number of demolished structures in 2017 compared to the previous year.
According to the annual report of the Public Security Ministry, 2,220 structures were demolished in 2017, compared to 1,158 in 2016. Demolitions by state authorities rose from 412 to 641, while instances in which the owners themselves demolished structures after feeling pressured to do so rose from 746 to 1579. About two thirds of those cases took place after demolition orders were issued. The budget for enforcement against illegal building was doubled as part of a five year plan that began last year to resettle Beduin in towns.
The main reason people demolish their own structures is financial, as there are hefty charges assessed when the state carries out the demolition.
Supporters of the Beduin say they face a severe housing shortage and have no mechanism to build legally since their villages are either unrecognized, or in some cases where they are recognized, they lack adequate building plans. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in October, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who is in charge of Beduin policy, indicated the five-year plan is premised on making Beduin towns such as Rahat more attractive places in which to live on the one hand, while using the threat or practice of demolition on the other.
“We want to finish with all the dispersion within eight years,” Ariel said, referring to villages and habitations outside the seven towns and the 11 villages that have been recognized.
Fadi Masamra, a Beduin rights activist, said government policy has become “more vicious. The number is going up because the government decided to finish this issue,” he said. “They are more violent now over these things, more active. The feeling is that they are trying to finish this issue for good.
They are trying to eliminate as much as they can from these villages. The plan is to move people from the unrecognized villages to the townships, to the places they want them to go to.”
The Beduin say they are living on ancestral lands and in many instances their villages existed before the state. But authorities see things differently, viewing residents as trespassers.
“Maybe there was a time when they didn’t have legal solutions but today they have them,” said Yair Maayan, head of the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Negev Beduin. “The state today creates tens of thousands of legal solutions” in towns.
“Democracy is aimed at safeguarding the rule that everyone lives in an ordered state and not anarchy,” he added.
But in fact, the tens of thousands of lots Maayan says are available to Beduin do not exist in reality, but only exist in planning maps, said Nili Baruch, a planner specializing in Beduin affairs at the Jerusalem- based NGO Bimkom.
“There are no housing solutions in the Negev for Beduin.
The Beduin in the towns and in the unrecognized villages face a severe housing shortage.
There are many obstacles that lead to a situation where there is insufficient marketing of lots for housing,” she said, adding that some of the obstacles are bureaucratic.
Atiyeh al-Asam, head of the council of unrecognized villages, said lands to which the authority wants people to move are owned by other Beduin families. “You can’t move a person by force from his village, from his land, from the place where he grew up and distance him from his history and culture and settle him on the land of others.” He contrasted the home demolitions against Arabs with government support for individual farms for Jews in the Negev.
There are about 120,000 Beduin living in 46 unrecognized villages, according to al-Asam.
Al-Asam said that most of the people who lose their homes go to live with relatives.
“A large share of them rebuild, they have no choice.”
He added that last year there were 20 demolitions of structures for illegal building in his home village of Abu Tlul, which is a recognized village.
Maayan confirmed there is a deliberate policy to intensify “enforcement” against illegal building. He said that Ariel had “made it clear in all his meetings with Beduin leaders that the state is investing billions of shekels in housing solutions in order to give an answer to the tens of thousands who don’t have legal answers and on the other hand will increase enforcement.”