Tribes in Transition
by Karin Kloosterman and Rivi Nissim
click on images to enlarge and to read more
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have been replaced by shanties made from corrugated tin plates, jute plastic,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.
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
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.
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 to pull it down.