The country plans to relocate tens of thousands of Bedouins who currently live in communities the government won't recognize.

For many years, 200,000 Arab Bedouins have lived in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Some reside in government-built towns, others in villages unrecognized by the Israeli government, built without water access, electricity or sanitation infrastructure.

But now, the Israeli military is building new bases in the desert,  along with 10 new communities. The "unrecognized" villages will also be demolished.


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A law, called the "Prawer Plan" plans to move approximately 40,000 Bedouins from unrecognized villages into seven official townships. Expected to be voted on this fall, the Israeli government says developing the region will narrow the gap between the Negev and the remainder of the country. Former minister Benny Begin says in a report that such a move will "make it possible for their [Bedouin] children to leap in time into the midst of the 21st century."

Many Negev Bedouins, descendants of semi-nomadic Arab tribes, live in poverty, and the population struggles disproportionately with unemployment and crime. A spokesman for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Reuters that the government has budgeted for affirmative action programs that will connect the Bedouin community to better health care, education, and infrastructure.  

But many are not pleased with the government's relocation plan, seeing it as a racist concept with no Arab involvement. Officials failing to consult local representatives of the unrecognized villages during the planning process.

Hundreds of people protested near one of the townships earlier this month, village council member Najib Abu Bneiyeh telling Reuters, "we see that they're forcing us to move without giving us a say in how and where we can live, so the protests are a way of resisting."

Below, via Reuters photographer Ronen Zvulun, a look at some of the Bedouin villages along the Negev desert:

A sign, which reads: "Established in the Ottoman era", is seen in the village of al-Sira, one of the dozens of ramshackle Bedouin Arab communities in the Negev desert which are not recognized by the Israeli state, in southern Israel August 20, 2013. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 
People walk in the village of al-Sira, August 20, 2013. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 
Bedouins protest against the destruction of their villages, along a highway near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba August 18, 2013. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 
A Bedouin boy looks at a laptop in a tent in the village of al-Arakib, August 18, 2013. 

(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 

A Bedouin boy stands under a picture of Bedouin IDF soldiers inside his home in the village of Wadi Alna'am, August 6, 2013. 

(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 

Khader Abu al-Kian (R) and his son walk among the rubble of their family's home which was demolished by Israeli authorities in the village of Atir, August 6, 2013. 

(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 

Bedouin Khader Abu al-Kian shows a copy of a photograph taken before his family's homes and orchards were demolished August 6, 2013. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 
A Bedouin man, wearing a T-shirt reading which reads: "Don't destroy my home", stands in the village of Alsra, August 18, 2013. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 
A Bedouin rides a horse in the village of al-Arakib, August 18, 2013. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 
Ground which has been prepared for the construction of new homes, part of Israel's plan to expand townships for Bedouins, is seen in front of the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom, near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba August 25, 2013. 

(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 

A man walks near the village of al-Sira, August 20, 2013. 

(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) 

About the Author

Mark Byrnes
Mark Byrnes

Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design, history, and photography.

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