The government-planned townships: a tale of under-development.


Today, slightly over half of the Negev Bedouin--around 83,000 individuals--live in the seven government-planned townships: Tel Sheva, Rahat, Segev Shalom, Kuseife, Ar'ara, Hera, and Laqye. All seven of these are urban localities, despite the fact that the Bedouin who were relocated to them had a nomadic tradition in the more distant past, and a farming tradition in the immediate past. The government planners did not offer the Bedouin alternative types of communities that are available to the majority in Israel, such as moshavim or villages, which are more similar to their historical experience. The irony is unmistakable: Jews who had been city dwellers for generations and arrived in Israel

in the 1950s and '60s were sent to rural locales in order to engage in farming and raise sheep, while the Bedouin, who for innumerable generations made a living from sheep grazing and farming, were relocated to urban localities. One possible explanation for this policy that cultural anthropologists are likely to advance is that the authorities adopted this approach in an attempt to accelerate Bedouin transition from "traditional" to "modern" society. In our eyes, a more likely explanation is that urbanization makes it possible to relocate a large number of Bedouin in a small space. Had Moshe Dayan's opinion, advocating moving the Bedouin to cities in central Israel, been accepted in the 1960s, an even greater saving in land might have been made, since at the time it would have been possible to put the Bedouin in cramped public housing projects, like those in which many of the Jews who came from the Arab countries at that time were housed.

The argument that the policy of relocating the Bedouin in townships was guided by land-economy considerations rather than by "urbanization" or "modernization" ones is underpinned by the fact that "urban" Bedouin locales have remarkably few urban characteristics. For example, while Rahat has a municipal library building--the only one in all the Negev Bedouin townships--a visit that we made in March 2005 revealed that something was missing in this building--books. In Rahat's new library building, not a single book was to be found, despite the fact that it has been up for over a year ...

Most of these locales are 20 years or more old, but they still lack urban infrastructure, as well as any economic infrastructure worthy of the name. As a result, not only are they unable to provide their residents with employment: they are also incapable of maintaining any reasonable level of urban services. In addition, the government services in these townships are exceptionally low in level.

As far as infrastructure systems are concerned, the "recognized" Bedouin townships' situation is very similar to that of all the Arab locales in Israel. At the end of the 1970s, at the beginning of the operation to set up the seven Bedouin townships, many Arab villages in the northern and central parts of Israel still had no sewerage systems, no electricity and no paved roads (Lustick, 1980:191). Even in the early 1990s, there was no proper sewerage infrastructure in most Arab localities in Israel (Benziman and Mansur, 1992:190).

When it comes to infrastructure levels, the state institutions involved in planning and setting up urban locales would appear to use different yardsticks depending on whether they are dealing with Jews or Arabs. And yet the amazing thing is that while the Arab villages in the north of Israel existed prior to 1948, and hence the State can argue that it has problems in installing infrastructure in a built-up area, the Bedouin townships in the Negev are brand new localities, planned by the state, and so there should have been no difficulty whatsoever when it came to installing infrastructure.

This being the case, the Bedouin townships do not today constitute a reasonable housing option for the inhabitants of the "unrecognized" villages. A survey carried out by the Jewish-Arab Center for Economic Development in 1997 found that "the population of the (unrecognized) villages is not interested in moving to the permanent townships, and in practice relocations from villages to townships have come to a complete halt in recent years" (Znobar, 1999: 7). The Construction and Housing Ministry carried out a similar survey two years previously, in December 1995, with similar results: some 80% of interviewees living in "unrecognized" villages expressed the desire to remain where they were; an additional 7% were willing to move to the townships' farming sections. On the other hand, 50% of those interviewed who were living in the townships said that they wanted to move away and go to the fanning villages (Fenster, 1995: 2-3; for similar data see also Abu-Saad, Lithwick and Abu-Saad, 2004:107).

Some of the areas that reflect these aspects of life in the recognized Bedouin localities--the townships--are outlined below.

Area of jurisdiction

The Bedouin urban localities are characterized by small areas of jurisdiction--a state of affairs that hampers their potential for development. Although the population of these localities constitutes 16% of the total population of the Beersheba subdistrict, their area of jurisdiction (60 makes up just 0.5% of the area of the subdistrict, which covers 12,945 (Adalah, 2004: 7).

These facts are particularly striking when...

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