The "unrecognized" localities: a tale of invisible citizens.

 
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Introduction

Just under half of the Negev Bedouin--around 76,000 individuals--live in 45 or so localities not recognized by the authorities (in 2002, the State Comptroller gave a lower figure--around 65,000; State Comptroller, 2002:111). Some of these localities were established prior to Israel's establishment, while others came into being in the 1950s, when the state authorities expelled Bedouin tribes from the north-western part of the Negev, to the Siyag area (Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, www.rcuv.org).

The "unrecognized" Bedouin villages do not appear on the official maps of the State of Israel, and their residents are invisible citizens: the state does not notice them when it designs policy, sets budgets, provides services or grants legal protection, nor do their Jewish neighbors see them--other than as a nuisance that ought to be reduced to a minimum.

Because they are "unrecognized," these localities do not receive proper government services - neither municipal budgets, water, electricity and sewerage services, nor educational, health and welfare services (on the condition of the unrecognized villages, see also State Comptroller, 2002, and Mena, 1996). Likewise, these villages have no system of local government. Those of their residents who fall under the areas of jurisdiction of Jewish municipal authorities, such as the B'nei Shimon and Ramat HaNegev Regional Councils, do not receive any services from these authorities (Yiftachel, 2003: 39).

The practical significance of being an "unrecognized" village is that it has no master plan, and hence no building permits can be granted. The result is that any construction--whether of residential dwellings, or public buildings, or infrastructure-is illegal and at risk of being demolished. This is the reason why, in the "unrecognized" villages, most of the structures are of flimsy materials--cloth, tin or wood, out of fear that if they were made of more sturdy materials, the authorities would demolish them. Nor are there any public buildings--no council buildings, no school buildings, no community center buildings, and so on. The internal roads and the roads that connect the village to the main roads are dirt roads.

Some 50% of the houses in the "unrecognized" villages are not connected to a water supply; the remainder receive low-grade water (Al-Huzayyel, 2002:18). In the absence of water from proper sources, the residents adopt a range of methods to acquire water, including storing water in containers, and private pipe connections, with the approval of the Water Committee at the Bedouin Administration, via pipes laid on the ground (Almi, 2003: 20-21).

The villages are not connected to the national electricity grid. As a result, most of the houses have no refrigerators. The few public institutions that exist have no electricity, and the roads are unlit (Almi, 2003: 27). Over 80% of residents only have access to electricity as the result of private generators operated for just a few hours a day, because of the high cost. A fraction of the residents use batteries (Al-Huzayyel, 2002:18; Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (www.rcuv.org).

As indicated earlier, the unrecognized villages have no sewerage systems. Consequently, use is made of cesspits, which constitute a sanitation and environmental hazard. In addition, two open sewerage lines, one beginning in the Jewish town of Dimona and the other in the Hebron Hills, traverse or run close to a number of the "unrecognized" villages (Almi, 2003: 29-30). In the absence of a municipal authority, these villages have no garbage removal system, the result being the accumulation of 91 tons of garbage a day, or 2,730 tons a month (Al-Huzayyel 2002: 17).

The health, education and welfare systems are in an appalling condition. Tens of thousands of the residents of the 45 "unrecognized" villages have to make do with the services of nine clinics, which have no water or mains electricity. The clinics provide basic services only: in order to receive additional medical services, the residents have to go to the regional clinics (Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (www.rcuv.org). (9)

Infant mortality is 13.1 per 1,000 births, compared to 5.5 per 1,000 births among the Jewish population (Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (www.rcuv.org).

The same applies to education: in all of the unrecognized villages, there are only 30 preschools for toddlers aged 3-4, although the relevant population comprises 6,500 children. In addition, there are just 15 elementary schools for a total of 18,000 or so children in the appropriate age group. For older children, there is not one single high school in the "unrecognized" villages, although there are 9,800 schoolchildren aged 12-17 (Al-Huzayyel, 2002:16; Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages: www.rcuv.org).

Given the absence of government recognition, the welfare system in the unrecognized villages is as basic as can be--at a time when 50% of their entire population, and some 60% of their children--are below the poverty line (Al-Huzayyel, 2002: 14).

In the wake of Justice Halima's ruling

In the twenty years since Justice Halima's ruling, the situation of the Bedouin living in "unrecognized" villages has not changed significantly. The state's position has not wavered, maintaining that the lands on which the Bedouin are living are state lands-an argument it uses, on the one hand, in order to refrain from recognizing, planning and developing these communities, and on the other hand in order to justify the fact that it withholds minimal services from these citizens. For their part, the Bedouin are not prepared to renounce their lands, even when this involves a major cost--living under the harshest of conditions, without proper infrastructure or services. The compensation that the state is prepared to offer them is not sufficiently persuasive to be able to break the present logjam. In addition, the alternatives available to those Bedouin who are in principle prepared to move to a township are not exactly tempting: as has been shown above, for the Negev Bedouin, living in a government-planned township means a low standard of living, few sources of employment, low-level education services, and a dearth of significant economic development plans.

And yet in the last decade, meaningful change has taken place. Firstly, in 2000 the government took a decision that represents a genuine breakthrough--to recognize some of the "unrecognized" villages and to include them in its master plans. This turnaround resulted in part from action on the part of Bedouin organizations and Bedouin activists in the Labor Party, which was in power at the time. Secondly, in 2000, the High Court of Justice ruled that the planning authorities were also required to plan rural communities for the Bedouin, and consideration must be given to recognizing the "unrecognized" villages, with Bedouin representatives being included in the planning process. We will expand on both of these decisions below.

In the meanwhile, these achievements exist on paper only, inasmuch as-despite the government decision and the High Court's ruling--the situation on the ground has not changed, largely because the state is not prepared to compromise when it comes to its basic condition: that the Bedouin renounce their lands, in return for not particularly generous compensation.

The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Negev Villages

In 1994, a master plan was devised for the southern region (Regional Master Plan RMP 14/4). It became clear that it involved displacing some of the Bedouin in the "unrecognized" villages from their land, and taking large tracts from some of the villages.

The phenomenon of excluding the Bedouin from government master plans is not a new one: the state, through its planning bodies, has acted this way for years. In a number of major regional master plans, the "unrecognized" Bedouin...

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