When is the last time you visited the area in Israel’s Negev desert known as the ‘triangle?’ This is the land mass between the cities of Be’er Sheva, Arad, and Dimona. What you would find there might shock you.
Spread out over this enormous area, which is greater than the size of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Be’er Sheva combined are 2,300 illegal encampments established by the Negev Bedouin.
While around 77% of the Negev’s 240,000 Bedouin currently reside in the 18 legal Bedouin-only towns and villages established or retroactively legalized by the State over the decades, the other 23% or around 55,000 Bedouin are living in these illegal and sprawling encampments, with no end in sight as to their growth and development.
As Regavim knows all too well once you start with illegal building, it’s a slippery downward slope.
In the Negev this manifests itself in the forms of high rates of crime and lawlessness, an abundance of polygamous unions, a lack of adequate healthcare, education, employment opportunities and many other social welfare problems.
The situation became out of control in part as a result of Israeli government after government ignoring what was happening on the ground within this population.
In recent years however, several government proposals to put the Bedouin on the grid were introduced but were either rejected by the legislators or by the Bedouin themselves.
But now, our organization Regavim, which seeks to safeguard Israel’s National Lands and uphold the rule of law in Israel, has put together a plan, which not only seeks to restore law and order to the Negev, but gives the Bedouin community hope for a brighter tomorrow.
The comprehensive plan strives to (in a nutshell):
- Settle the Bedouin living illegally in the desert into the already established 18 towns and communities. This will bring the Bedouin population into the fold with housing and utilities, and grant access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities, which all Israeli citizens are entitled to. The government already for years has been offering the Bedouin community FREE plots of land within the recognized communities. No other ethnic or religious group in the country is presented with land, free of charge.
- Expand the standard of living within the communities themselves. Once on the grid, the opportunities for the new residents of these areas must grow in all facets of life.
- Solve the issue of ownership claims. Starting in the 1970’s the government allowed Bedouin with ownership claims in the Negev to come forward to present their cases. However, every single claim brought forward over the years has been dismissed since proof of ownership was never established. Nevertheless the State offered monetary compensation and land swaps to those claiming certain areas, even without proof of ownership. In recent years however, there has been no significant activity or progress to solve the issue of ownership claims. Under the Regavim plan, the courts will go back to work and the ownership claims within the recognized communities will be addressed, based on increased financial compensation to encourage compromise. However, this process will be carried out in parallel to steps a. and b. above so that those living in illegal communities can relocate to areas on recognized State Land within the legal towns and villages, without having to wait for the legal bureaucracy to pan out first in regard to areas where ownership claims exist.
- And finally, all of the various official bodies responsible for the issues pertaining to the Bedouin need to be united under one umbrella. Currently, you have the Authority for the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, local authorities, inspection and enforcement bodies, the State Attorney, the police, the Israel Lands Authority, and others all working without any meaningful coordination between each other. The government must appoint the appropriate government minister to reign in these various bodies under his auspices and put an end to the chaos.
In the context of these four steps explained in great detail in Regavim’s new policy paper, there is hope for the future of the Negev. This is an extremely important issue, unfortunately not on the radar of many Israelis living in other parts of the country. Hopefully that will now change because as our first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion once stated “If we don’t stand our ground on the Negev, Tel Aviv will not stand.”