Israel is preparing to move thousands of Bedouins off of land that their families have lived on for generations. Israel’s $2 billion plan to resettle its Bedouin citizens is part of a major redevelopment initiative. The government wants to move two huge military bases into the Negev desert. However, the plan is facing many hurdles as Israeli officials have failed to convince the Bedouins and their supporters that leaving their ancestral homes and moving to new, legal homes will result in a better future for them and their children.
The level of distrust underlying the dispute would be difficult to overstate. The Bedouins have faced many decades of discrimination and neglect and many now believe that the Israeli officials are trying to destroy their way of life. The plight of the Bedouins has prompted condemnation from human rights groups, cultural celebrities and European lawmakers.
Proponents of the project say that it promises the Bedouins clinics, jobs, education and infrastructure that they need. The Bedouins have an infant mortality rate that is seven times higher than that in Tel Aviv. Illiteracy and unemployment are rampant throughout their community, and many live without water, electricity, phone and sewage services.
Opponents accuse Israel of a land grab and complain that the Bedouins were not consulted enough in the plan’s construction. The struggle has become a proxy for the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. Recently, demonstrations against the plan ended with 48 protesters arrested and 15 police officers injured. Because of the Bedouins’ unwillingness to make concessions, right-wing lawmakers have threatened to kill the plan.
Abdeh is one of the many villages in the vast Negev desert that Israel does not recognize. Government officials have been holding meetings with the Bedouins residing there to try to alleviate their concerns about leaving the land. One man complained during a recent meeting, “I don’t need gutters.” Another chimed in with, “I don’t want a road.” Tribal elder Swellem al-Kallab told the representatives, “Where we sit right now, you just draw a line around it. I want to stay here.”