Jewish Communities
Planned To 'Block
Bedouin Expansion'

By Zafrir Rinat
The Housing Ministry is not waiting for the planned solutions for the Bedouin community in the Negev to be completed. It is advancing the establishment of Jewish settlements near the Bedouin communities to "block" their "expansion."
Tens of thousands of Bedouin live in the Negev in dire conditions, in 45 villages that continue to grow. Unrecognized by the state, the villages are not connected to the national water and sewage systems, their garbage is not collected and they do they enjoy other community services.
The state and the Bedouin have not yet reached an agreement on solving the problems of the Bedouin community. Regardless of this, the ministerial committee for the development of the Negev and the Galilee decided some three months ago, at the instruction of Housing Minister Effi Eitam, to form a team to locate lands for new Jewish settlements in the region to block the Bedouin's expansion.
This is arousing chagrin in some ministries, which say the Interior Ministry has been planning Jewish settlements in the Negev for the last two years and already approved the establishment of a few, as well as a number of new Bedouin villages. Following Eitam's initiative, the interior and environment ministries have decided to opt out of the Housing Ministry's land locating team.
The team checked 18 Negev sites for various "qualities," including their ability to block the expansion of the nearby Bedouin villages. For example, in the case of a settlement planned near the Bedouin village Beit Pelet, the team wrote, "It forms a settlement contiguity and prevents the expansion of the Bedouin community northward."
Another site, planned for a community near Arad, would prevent the two Bedouin villages Mar'it and Kseifeh from joining, the team wrote. A third site would prevent a possible joining of Al-Sayed, Moleda, Tel Sheva and Umm Batin.
A few weeks ago the Interior Ministry's southern district director, Dudu Cohen, held a first discussion in his office to advance the process. The participants talked of blocking the Bedouin expansion and agreed this terminology could not be used in official documents. Some things should not be declared out loud, one official said.
In the meeting's summary Cohen wrote in a deliberately vague way: "On the factual level, in the region in question, there is no Jewish settlement except Nevatim. This fact requires an additional examination of planning the future expected for this region and its various alternatives."
The Housing Ministry, along with the Prime Minister's Office, is soon expected to initiate a cabinet resolution to establish four new Jewish settlements in the region. The Housing Ministry did not respond to Haaretz's queries about planning new settlements as Bedouin expansion blockers.
Prof. Eli Stern, whose office Svivotichnun surveyed possible sites for the Housing Ministry in the past, said phrases about blocking Bedouin expansion were used only in internal debates. The main activity focused on checking what land the Bedouin have no ownership claims to, to ensure the land could be built on.
Some of participants in the debates raised the problem of illegal Bedouin construction on state lands, and said this should be tackled by implementing the plans to build new settlements for them. Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said recently, "You can't only brandish the stick in front of the Bedouin, you have to offer them the carrot as well."
Planner Nili Baruch, of the Bamakom association for planning and human rights, said planning new Jewish communities is an orderly process carried out by the planning institutions as part of master plans. These plans are based on the needs of existing communities and the local population.
"The process the Housing Ministry is advancing is illegitimate, because it is not based on planning considerations but on giving priority to Jewish citizens over Bedouin ones," she said.
"This is being done without considering the consequences, which will be increasing the gaps and alienation between Bedouin and Jews, and adding further injustice in the allocation of resources," she added.
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