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issues Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 15:05 GMT
Israel's Bedouin
Negev desert
Many Bedouin live in the Negev desert
By Middle East analyst Fiona Symon

The shootings on 9 January of four Bedouin soldiers in an attack on an Israeli army post by the Palestinian militants has thrown into sharp relief the position of these descendants of Arabic-speaking desert nomads.

The dead men - one of whom was an army officer - were members of a battalion composed almost entirely of Bedouins.

It had apparently been assigned the dangerous task of patrolling the southern Gaza Strip.


For the Bedouin, there's been a huge gap between the promises made to them and what has been delivered

Dr Alean al-Krenawi, Ben Gurion University
Bedouin Arabs make up about 10% of Israel's Arab population and are, therefore, a minority within a minority.

Most of the Bedouin - around 125,000 - still live in the Negev, while around 60,000 live in the Galilee area of northern Israel, according to Dr Alean al-Krenawi, director of the Centre for Bedouin Studies and Development at Ben-Gurion University.

He says there are close to 30 tribes altogether, some of whom also live in the areas under Palestinian Authority control between Jericho and Jerusalem, and in Gaza and the Jordan valley.

Dr Krenawi says the Israeli Bedouin see themselves as Arabs first and foremost, but have a tradition of good relations with the Israeli state.

Many have served in Bedouin units of the Israeli army, where they have been valued for their tracking skills.

Land dispute

Israel, however, has never recognised their ownership of the land, and they have suffered a series of land expropriations and evictions, forcing their communities into smaller and smaller areas.

Although some families have reached an agreement with the state of Israel, for most Bedouin, the issue of land ownership is unresolved, says Dr Krenawi.

He estimates that less than 10% are now able to maintain their traditional pastoral way of life, because of lack of access to land and water.


All problems start from the fact that the Bedouin live in villages established before the state of Israel, and therefore not recognised by the state. The state refuses to give them any infrastructure

Banna Shoughry-Badarne, human rights lawyers
And the transition to a modern way of life has been particularly difficult for the Bedouin because they lack the skills and education to adapt their way of life, he says.

Having lost their traditional livelihood, the rate of unemployment among the Bedouin is very high and they represent the poorest of the poor in Israel, says Dr Krenawi.

About half the Negev Bedouin live in villages recognised by the state, which have access to basic facilities like water and electricity, but half live in "unrecognised" villages.

Lack of basic needs

Their plight has caught the attention of a number of advocacy groups, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Ms Banna Shoughry-Badarne, a lawyer for ACRI, says: "All problems start from the fact that the Bedouin live in villages established before the state of Israel, and therefore not recognised by the state. The state refuses to give them any infrastructure."

Unrecognised villages have no water or electricity and their inhabitants are forced to travel long distances to school or for health care, she says.

In her view, the Bedouin are subject to the worst human rights violations of any community in Israel, being denied basic rights such as access to water, education and health care.

Relationship with Israel

She points out that around Beersheba, where most of unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev are located, there are 104 agricultural settlements for Jews, but none for the Bedouin - even though agriculture and animal husbandry is the traditional Bedouin way of life.

Even in the Negev's officially-recognised villages, facilities are poor and there are no jobs. "They are industrial villages, but without industry," says Ms Shoughry-Badarne.

All this has taken a toll on the relationship between the Bedouin and the state, says Dr Krenawi.

In the early days of the state of Israel, the Bedouin believed in co-existence and established good relations with their Jewish neighbours, but these have begun to deteriorate as a result of economic hardship.

Bedouin soldiers serving in the army go home and are struck by the difference between the way their families are forced to live and those of the Jewish soldiers, says Dr Krenawi.

"For the Bedouin, there's been a huge gap between the promises made to them and what has been delivered," he says.


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10 Jan 02 | Middle East
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