Features

Trading spaces

"Trading spaces" Continued...

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

Mr. Sharon's commitment to begin massive Negev projects in 2006 make the Negev an attractive new homeland for Jewish Gaza evacuees. The JNF has even established a toll-free number to create a detailed database of evacuees' housing, job, and location needs. In some cases, entire communities are being relocated together, and much of the necessary infrastructure is being established prior to moving day.

For the Negev Bedouin, the issues are much more complex. They lack basics that Gaza evacuees have, like a phone and someone to call.

Digging deeper into the numbers reveals the demographic shift Israel has encountered in recent years-a major source of tension in the region. During the creation of the state in 1948, there were 150,000 Palestinians. Now there are 1 million, and they comprise 20 percent of the population. Israel as a Jewish state is legally defined as having a Jewish majority, but this definition is threatened as the Bedouin maintain birthrates that far exceed those of Israeli Jews. The average Bedouin family in the Negev has 10 children.

Half of the Negev Bedouin live in seven settlement towns created by the government. The other half live in approximately 40 "unrecognized villages" that don't have the most basic government services: streets, electricity, running water, schools, and adequate health care. Poverty is rampant.

Some progress is being made through social justice groups like the one Mr. Abu Obiad works for, the National Israel Fund. Mr. Abu Obiad and his colleagues have helped bring electricity and water into Bedouin schools and are seeing progress in the effort to create government recognition for all Bedouin villages.

He acknowledges, however, that progress is often slow and believes the government is trying to "Judaize" the region: "I think they are trying to force the Bedouin into concentrated villages. Then they can bring more Jews to the Negev."

Many Bedouin claim their villages existed before the state of Israel and refuse to move to the designated villages. This tension turned violent in the "unrecognized" village of Abu Savit this month when several Bedouin refused to leave their homes after police and Interior Ministry officials served them demolition orders. In the confrontations 12 policemen and 12 Bedouin were injured.

Mr. Abu Obiad identifies the frustration of the Bedouin experience: "Now my children are growing up. They want a computer in the house, but we cannot connect the house to the telephone lines because we are still in a temporary house."

Others argue that because many of the Bedouin choose to live as nomads in tents and caves, they make the task of creating social equality challenging. JNF employee Jodi Bodner is hopeful that future Negev development will usher in a more prosperous era not only for Jews, but also for the Bedouin: "The Bedouin are mired in poverty. The only way to help them is to bring them opportunities. We want to bring them schools and education, but economic opportunities are the only way to bring them out of poverty."

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