A government panel is busy creating a development plan for unrecognized Bedouin villages. The question is, are the Bedouin prepared to accept it?
“A government panel headed by Minister Benny Begin has in recent months been formulating a development program for the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the northern Negev Desert and for the residents’ claims of land ownership. This program will have ramifications for the open spaces in the region. The Bedouin assert that the villages in which they have lived for many years must be granted legal status. But beyond the question of recognition, is the very significant question of how these villages will be developed and laid out in the Negev. Currently, some 45 villages in the northern Negev lack official recognition or legal status. Each is home to between 400 and 6,000 people – in other words, a population of close to 100,000, which is expected to double within the next two decades.
The villages suffer from serious shortages of basic water, sewage and electrical infrastructures, while the dispersal of the existing residential hubs has a serious negative impact on the environment, particularly in terms of garbage and wastewater. Other damage to ecological systems is wrought by nonstop vehicular traffic and the loss of open space to buildings and roads. At present, government officials agree that the policy of gathering Bedouin into large towns, as was done in the past, must be discontinued and that some of the unrecognized settlements must be recognized as agricultural villages. But there is a fundamental difference of opinion between Bedouin organizations and the panel headed by Begin about the development of Bedouin villages.
The Begin panel, working in coordination with the Housing and Construction Ministry’s Bedouin affairs authority, is tasked with proposing a development outline to regularize Bedouin settlement by 2030. At the same time, land ownership issues are supposed to be settled – a precondition for successful village development. A year ago, Bedouin organizations and NGOs formulated a master plan for the unrecognized villages together with a team headed by Prof. Oren Yiftachel from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. According to this team, the unrecognized villages are already dispersed in a way compatible with the principles of national development approved by the government. “The density of most of the residential sites is similar to the settlement density typical in the Jewish rural sector,” the master plan states.
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