Bedouin means "people of the desert". It describes a way of life, not an ethnicity. Bedouins became Israeli citizens in 1954. In the Negev desert, the Bedouin are typically engaged in farming goats and sheep.
The Bedouin lost more than 3,200 land ownership cases in the Israeli courts in the early 1970s, rejected mainly on the grounds there was no proper documentation. Now the Bedouin are claiming ownership of about 5% of the Negev as traditional tribal lands.
Three years ago, the government commissioned a retired judge, Eliezer Goldberg, to make recommendations for dealing with the Bedouin. He advised that many of their villages should be recognised, acknowledging their "general historic ties" to the land. A committee chaired by the planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, was tasked with looking at how to implement Goldberg's recommendations, and proposed the immediate transfer to the state of 50% of the land claimed by the Bedouin, minimal compensation for the remaining land with severe exclusions and the demolition of 35 unrecognised villages. The Bedouin were neither represented on nor consulted by the committee.
95,000 Bedouin live in the Negev – 30% of the region's population – on 2% of the land. 90,000 live in 45 unrecognised villages without basic services such as running water, electricity, roads and high schools. 67% live in poverty.
General Moshe Dayan on the Bedouin in 1963: "We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat – in industry, services, construction and agriculture..."
In the coming days, a bill will be introduced in the Israeli parliament which proposes the resettlement of up to 40,000 inhabitants of dozens of "unrecognised" Bedouin villages in the Negev to specially designated townships. On Sunday the cabinet agreed to allow work to begin on 10 new Jewish settlements in the area "to attract a new population to the Negev".
Thabet Abu Rass, professor of geography at Ben Gurion University in the main Negev city of Be'er Sheva, described the plan as a "declaration of war" on the Bedouin, intended to squeeze them into a tiny geographical area, hamper demographic growth, deny them equal rights as Israeli citizens and eliminate their way of life. "If you take the land from the Bedouin, they cannot be Bedouin any more. You are denying their existence," he said.
"...We want to be part of our state here, we want to be equal citizens, partners – and this is what the state of Israel is denying to us for 60 years by marginalising and discriminating against us." Alamour, a teacher and law student in the unrecognised village of Alsira