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  Tribes in Transition
by Karin Kloosterman and Rivi Nissim

While walking along an unsteady, open-field, you face an obstacle- a barrier- and then a four-meter high wire fence. There is no sign pointing to the village, no road that leads to it. Once you have circumvented the barriers, you are staring at corrugated metal shacks serving as homes in the middle of the desert. In this part of the land, there are 45 such encampments known as “unrecognized villages” housing 68 000 citizens, who were once nomads.

Shoddy sheds, often rattling in the wind, are scattered over some 90 thousand acres in the Northern Negev desert. Home to those that sleep in them, they are deemed illegal by Israeli law. These dwellings are not recognized in formal documents, and so do not exist to the knowledge of many Israelis.

As a nomadic people, Bedouin tribes have lived and thrived off the land in the Negev desert since the Byzantine period. They relied almost exclusively on agriculture and herding for their livelihood, and had clearly established traditional patterns of land ownership, grazing rights, and water access.
During the 1948 War, about 80% of the Bedouin population fled or were expelled from their lands. The Israeli government has sought to resettle the Bedouin population into government-planned towns, and in turn, confiscated Bedouin land for use by the Jewish population. Today, the Bedouins are struggling to retain ownership over thousand acres of land still in their possession.

Only half of the 120 000 Negev Bedouins have acquiesced to the plan of resettling into government-initiated townships. The rest, that didn’t, continue to live in traditional settlements, referred to as “unrecognized villages”. Since authorities view the villages as illegal, they are void of the most rudimentary services such as health care, electricity, access roads, plumbing/sewage system, educational facilities, or adequate provision of water. In most cases, these marginalized villagers are living next to municipal dump sites, military zones, polluting factories, or as in the case of Wadi Na'am, a toxic waste incinerator. What’s worse, most people know that as every day goes by, their homes could be demolished.

As a response villagers have resorted to innovative measures to conceal permanent structure from the claws of the bulldozer, such as brick walls covered with a metal sheet. The traditional hand-woven goat hair tents have been replaced by shanties made from corrugated tin plates, jute plastic, scrap pieces of wood, and zinc roofs.
On the other hand, establishment of small and scattered Jewish settlements, which can sometimes consist of a single-family dwelling, are encouraged by government, with total disregard to professional plans, commissioned by the state institutions, plans that take into consideration environmental, economic and social factors. Some Jewish communities come to find a home in the arid desert as groups with a common ideology or way of life, and diverse relationships with the neighboring Bedouin community are being formed.

Men: Though many Bedouin men serve in the Israeli army for a source of honor and income, eventually Bedouin/Jewish inequality may manifest to anger which may lead to aggression and violence inside and outside the home.
Gangs and social hierarchies proliferate and trickle down to even the big Jewish cities such as Beersheba, where certain Bedouin groups are known to collect protection money from shop owners, should they “like” to stay in business.

The Bedouin community must face a rapid transformation from traditional to modern ways of living. While the entire community suffers, it may be the women who are most negatively impacted, since they must also contend with the patriarchal structure of their society.
No longer nomadic, women in particular have been affected by the loss of pasture and farmland. The transition to a settled way of life very quickly has disrupted traditional activities like herding, milking, and wool spinning, which in turn has had a negative impact on “women status” in the community.

While Bedouin men have been able to replace traditional income-generating activities with modern employment, women are culturally prohibited from seeking employment outside their villages. As a result, 96.5% of Bedouin women in the Negev are unemployed. Furthermore, women who spend most of their time with their children do not have the knowledge or tools to educate and support the younger generation through the transformation process.

Restricted to private space only, Bedouin women mustn’t be seen by men other than the immediate family.

Case study:
Wadi Na'am is an unrecognized village south of Beersheba: a conglomeration of encampments housing about 4 000 Bedouins from various tribes, including the "El Azazme". Wadi Na'am is located near a military fire-zone, an electricity plant, an active oil well, and a hazardous waste dump site- Ramat Hovav.

Adalah, a human rights organization has successfully petitioned to the Israeli Supreme Court that the Ministry of Health must establish health clinics in six unrecognized villages, yet, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the Ministry must provide Mother & Child clinics within 60 days, three years have passed and nothing has been built.

Bypassing the ineffective ruling, Bustan, a partnership addressing the plight of indigenous and marginalized people in Israel/Palestine, initiated a project to build a medical clinic for the community, without government support. The solar-powered, straw-bale clinic was planned by Israeli architects using alternative building techniques, and built by the local men and volunteers with local materials. It is now in its final stages of completion.

Optimists see it as a milestone for an alternative building center, which will draw visitors and supply employment for the Bedouin community.

Pessimists see the structure as bound for destruction. They wait for the paramilitary unit established by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to pull it down.


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