Unrecognized village

Unrecognized villages

The term unrecognized village refers to a Bedouin village in the Negev Desert which the Israeli government does not recognize as a legal settlement. Approximately half of Bedouin citizens of Israel live in 39-45 such villages. According to the Israel Land Authority, in 2007 40% of the Bedouin lived in Unrecognized villages, although the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) refers to Bedouin in unrecognized villages as half the Negev Bedouin population. The unrecognised villages are ineligable for municipal services such as connection to the electrical grid, water mains or trash-pickup. Homes in the villages have been subject to demolition by the Israeli authorities. The unrecognized villages are not marked on any commercial maps.


Counter to the image of the Bedouin as fierce stateless nomads roving the entire region, by the turn of the 20th century, much of the Bedouin population in Palestine was settled, semi-nomadic, and engaged in agriculture according to an intricate system of land ownership, grazing rights, and water access. Although the Bedouin in Israel continue to be perceived as nomads, today all of them are fully sedentarized, and about half are urbanites.

Between 1948 and 1966, the new State of Israel imposed a military administration over Arabs in the region and designated 85% of the Negev "State Land." All Bedouin habitation on this newly-declared State Land was retroactively termed illegal and "unrecognized. Now that Negev lands which the Bedouin had inhabited upwards of 500 years was designated State Land, the Bedouin were no longer able to fully engage in their sole means of self-subsistence – agriculture and grazing. The government then forcibly concentrated these Bedouin tribes into the Siyag (Arabic for 'fence') triangle of Beer Sheva, Arad and Dimona.

In order to reinforce the invisible Siyag fence, the State employed a reining mechanism, the Black Goat Law of 1950. The Black Goat Law curbed grazing so as to prevent land erosion, prohibiting the grazing of goats outside recognized land holdings. Since few Bedouin territorial claims were recognized, most grazing was thereby rendered illegal. Both Ottoman and British land registration processes failed to reach into the Negev region. Most Bedouin who had the option, preferred not to register their lands as this would mean being taxed without representation or services. Those whose land claims were recognized found it almost impossible to keep their goats within the periphery of their newly limited range. Into the 1970s and 1980s, only a small portion of the Bedouin were able to continue to graze their goats. Instead of migrating with their goats in search of pasture, the majority of the Bedouin migrated in search of wage-labor.

The Israeli government has promoted the sedentarization of the Bedouin population. In 1963, Moshe Dayan said:

We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat - in industry, services, construction, and agriculture. 88% of the Israeli population are not farmers, let the Bedouin be like them. Indeed, this will be a radical move which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person who comes home in the afternoon and puts his slippers on. His children will get used to a father who wears pants, without a dagger, and who does not pick out their nits in public. They will go to school, their hair combed and parted. This will be a revolution, but it can be achieved in two generations."|||Israeli General Moshe Dayan to Haaretz, 1963
Dayan added, "Without coercion but with governmental direction ... this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear."

In 1979 Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon declared a 1,500 square kilometer area in the Negev a protected nature reserve, rendering a major portion of the Negev almost entirely out of bounds for Bedouin herders. In conjunction, he established the Green Patrol, which has been called an 'environmental paramilitary unit', with the mission of fighting Bedouin 'infiltration' into national Israeli land by preventing Bedouin from grazing their animals, seen as creating 'facts on the ground.' During Sharon's tenure as Minister of Agriculture (1977-1981), the Green Patrol removed 900 Bedouin encampments and cut goat herds by more than 1/3. Today the black goat is nearly extinct, and Bedouin in Israel do not have enough access to black goat hair to weave tents.


Unrecognized villages vs. urban townships

Denied access to their former sources of sustenance via grazing restrictions, severed from the possibility of access to water, electricity, roads, education, and health care in the unrecognized villages, and trusting in government promises that they would receive services if they moved, in the 1970s and 80s tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel resettled in 7 legal towns constructed by the government. In 2003, about half of the Bedouin population of approximately 150,000 lived in 7 urban townships, and half lived in 45 unrecognized villages. Since grazing has been severely restricted, and the Bedouin rarely receive permits to engage in self-subsistence agriculture, and few of the Bedouin in unrecognized villages see the urban townships as a desirable form of settlement.

Environmental hazards

Unapproved construction of unrecognized villages is considered an environmental hazard by prominent Israeli environmental figures arguing that Bedouin take up open spaces that could be used for touristic purposes and construction of towns to accommodate new settlers under the Blueprint Negev.

In the portion of the Negev available for civilian purposes, a large number of citizens live together in close proximity to a range of types of hazardous infrastructure. In the past few decades both Bedouin and Jews of the region have come to share some 2.5 % of the desert with Israel's nuclear reactors, 22 agro and petrochemical factories, an oil terminal, closed military zones, quarries, a toxic waste incinerator (Ramat Hovav), cell towers, a power plant, several airports, a prison, and 2 rivers of open sewage. Much of this infrastructure is concentrated on the grounds of the unrecognized village of Wadi el-Na'am.

Demolitions, development and demographics

Bedouin advocates argue that the main reason for the transfer of the Bedouin into townships against their will is demographic. Today there are around 160,000 Bedouins living in the Negev, and the number is increasing fast. With an annual growth rate of 5.5%, their birthrate is amongst the highest in the world; there will be 320,000 Bedouin in the Negev by 2020. In 2003, Director of the Israeli Population Administration Department, Herzl Gedj, described polygamy in the Bedouin sector a "security threat" and advocated various means of reducing the Arab birth rate. In 2003, Shai Hermesh, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency and head of its effort to establish a solid Jewish majority in the desert told The Guardian: "We need the Negev for the next generation of Jewish immigrants" and added, "It is not in Israel's interest to have more Palestinians in the Negev."

In 2005 Ronald Lauder of the Jewish National Fund announced plans to bring 250-000-500,000 new settlers into the Negev through the Blueprint Negev, incurring opposition from Bedouin rights groups concerned that the unrecognized villages might be cleared to make way for Jewish-only development and potentially ignite internal civil strife. Some Bedouin advocates claim the Blueprint Negev is motivated by demographic considerations, aimed at the increasing Jewish population to offset the skyrocketing Bedouin population.


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