The Bedouin in the Negev
Most of the Bedouin tribes in the Negev hail from the Hejaz, a region in the north of the Arabian peninsula.
Education: At present there are 33 elementary schools, three high schools and three vocational schools for the Bedouin community in the Negev. At the elementary level, with an enrollment of 95%, the school population is made up of equal proportions of boys and girls. But because Bedouin society regards females as inferior and does not encourage them to study, girls make up no more than 10% of the pupils in high schools. At first many teachers had to be brought in from outside the community, today 60 percent of the teaching staff is Bedouin.
All the Bedouin high schools and 60% of the elementary schools in the Negev, are located in the seven Bedouin towns there. Over the past five years, extensive resources have been invested in schools, especially in buildings, services, water pipes, heating and more. Computers and laboratories have also been introduced.
Health: There are clinics in all seven Bedouin towns in the Negev (in Rahat, proclaimed a city in 1994, there are four clinics and a day-hospital). The medical staff includes Jews and Arabs; fifteen of them are Bedouin doctors. Most of the Bedouin living outside the towns can reach the clinics easily; in the more outlying areas, several mobile clinics provide services in the mornings.
A total of 12 clinics provide services in the Negev at present (one clinic per 6000 persons); another 10 clinics are in various stages of establishment. Hospital facilities are available in Be'er Sheva. If a gap still exists between health services in the rest of the country and in the Bedouin towns, it relates more to the physical domain than to the level of medicine.
Land Rights: In most countries in the Middle East the Bedouin have no land rights, only users' privileges. Israeli Law is derived largely from Mandatory (British) law which in turn incorporated much Ottoman law. Under Israeli law, a person who has not registered his/her land in the Land Registry cannot claim ownership; but in the mid 1970s Israel let the Negev Bedouin register their land claims and issued certificates as to the size of the tracts claimed. These certificates served as the basis for the "right of possession" later granted by the government. Following the signing of the Treaty of Peace with Egypt, it became necessary to move an airport to a locality inhabited by 5000 Bedouin. The government, recognizing these land claim certificates, negotiated with the certificate holders and paid compensation to them. Most moved to Bedouin townships, built houses and established businesses.
In recent years the Ministerial Committee for the Advancement of Bedouin Affairs has undertaken to solve the problem of land ownership and has been assured of the necessary funds. The government is willing to leave some 20% of the land claimed in Bedouin possession and to compensate them for the remainder. In the past, tensions relating to land ownership have led to violence. A solution is now possible, but it requires the willingness and goodwill of both partners.
Two kinds of land offenses make media headlines: illegal building and grazing in protected areas:
Illegal building. Tents and light structures (shacks and huts) built illegally are treated forgivingly. But construction of houses of stone or concrete without a building permit is considered an offense, since adequate infrastructure and services cannot be provided. Some 2,000 such locations with buildings already exist, scattered over an area of about 1,000 square kilometers.
Grazing in protected areas. Most of the livestock of the Bedouin in the Negev who keep flocks of sheep and goats are registered and approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, which provides pasture land outside the Negev for six to seven months of the year, since the carrying capacity of the Negev is limited. Owners who, for reasons of tax evasion, have not registered their livestock and do not receive Ministry of Agriculture services, frequently trespass on nature reserves or populated areas. They are liable to be punished under the law.
Permanent locations: The establishment of permanent towns did not begin until the Bedouin themselves constructed buildings to replace tents. But the urbanization process is by no means simple, as the planners have to deal with issues involving tradition and social structure and the Bedouin themselves have difficulty in articulating their wishes in planning terms.
The first Bedouin town, Tel Sheva, was founded in 1967. Here all possible mistakes were made, both by the planners and by government officials. Since then another six towns have been established in the Negev and an effort was made to learn from each previous experience. But the planning concept focused on urban settlement, while many Bedouin wanted to live in rural localities. Today there are plans to found such rural localities and it is hoped that they will satisfy the traditional aspirations of the Bedouin.
The Bedouin urban population in the Negev (1998)
The total Bedouin population of the Negev is about 110,000, which means that about 57,000 are still scattered in outlying areas. It will be Israel's task in the near future, to solve, together with the Bedouin, the problems of their settlement in towns and rural communities.
Livelihood: The desire of about 30% of the Bedouin in the Negev to retain traditional occupations - the raising of livestock and dry farming - as a source of primary or additional income, causes them to seek pasture land, the supply of which is decreasing due to development and increased quantities of livestock. Given the arid conditions of the Negev, the government, though increasing quotas from time to time, providing veterinary services and refraining from the importation of mutton, must limit pasture land. This is at times depicted in the media as cruel, and the Bedouin as victims of high-handedness.
Other sources of livelihood are:
1. Thirty percent of the Bedouin in the Negev have permanent jobs (in factories, government services etc.).
2. A similar percentage of unskilled workers cannot obtain permanent jobs and they are the immediate victims when recession and unemployment strike. The National Insurance Law guarantees minimal income to the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled or ill and to orphans and widows.
3. In private enterprise: they have succeeded to capture three niches in which neither Jews nor Arabs compete (providing income to an estimated 25% of the population): as agricultural contractors with modern mechanical equipment; as owners of trucks, utility vehicles, buses and cabs, or as salaried employees of transportation companies; and as contractors for development work, involving the use of heavy mechanical equipment.