ISRAEL

Israeli Bedouins left without bomb shelters over ‘illegal’ settlements

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, showing no sign of respite, is reaching into the Negev desert. In this Israeli territory, the first victims of collateral damage are the Bedouins, a semi-nomadic Arabic people. They have asked the Israeli government for missile shelters – in vain.

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This house, located in a Negev village, was destroyed by a rocket from Hamas. Photo published on the Facebook page "Negev Coexistence Forum."

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, showing no sign of respite, is reaching into the Negev desert. In this Israeli territory, the first victims of collateral damage are the Bedouins, a semi-nomadic Arabic people. They have asked the Israeli government for missile shelters – in vain.

The Israeli Supreme court held an emergency session last Thursday, regarding a petition demanding the construction of missile shelters for Bedouins living in the Negev desert, in the south of Israel. Thus far, a large part of this zone has not been protected by the “Iron Dome”, an antimissile defense system that intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza strip.

Presented by the Bedouins of the Negev and human rights NGOs, the petition demands  – among other things – that the Israeli government put mobile shelters into place until something more permanent can be installed.

This request has become even more urgent since the Gaza-launched rockets killed a Bedouin on Saturday near the village of Dimona, and the week prior, injured two Bedouin girls in the vicinity of Beersheba.

While the Supreme Court was deliberating its decision, the Israeli government made a statement saying the situation was not caused by any political discrimination, but of the Bedouin’s illegal construction: “For example, residents of a neighborhood in the center of the country, whose buildings were erected illegally, or not according to the planning and construction laws, would also be inadequately protected."

The Israeli army has also stressed that 27% of Israelis have not had access to any protection, either.

Semi-nomadic Arabs have been living in the Negev for centuries. The Bedouins, living on land which has been part of the Israeli territory since 1948, are Israeli citizens. Numbering around 150,000, they represent 12% of the country's Arab population, and live mainly from agriculture and breeding livestock.

A home in a Negev desert village. Photo by the Negev Coexistence Forum.

“Many of their villages are judged illegal by the state of Israel”

Haia Noach is the director of the Negev Coexistence Forum, an NGO fighting for Bedouins’ rights. She lives in the region of Omer, a city in the Negev.

The situation seems inextricable. Housing constructed by the Bedouins, often in very remote areas of the Negev, is illegal in the eyes of the government. Israel recognizes land ownership in this region only if the owner is able to present a document provided by the British Mandate in 1921. At this time, very few Bedouins registered their plots of land. Those who live in cities or in large villages have fewer problems, as some of them are lucky enough to have antimissile shields.

In light of this, it is unlikely that the government will decide to pass a motion in favor of these people. And yet, the role of the state is to protect its citizens. The organisation I work for, Negev Coexistence, has sent dozens of letters to the leadership of the Home Front Command [a service of the Israeli Army specialised in civilian protection], but as of yet, we have not received any responses.

In 2003, the State of Israel decided to recognize 13 Bedouin villages in the Negev, but this didn’t change much: villagers never received any construction permits, so thus the policy of demolishing homes continues. It is sad, as some of these villages were constructed before the creation of the state of Israel.

The Israeli has declared that it would intensify its ground offensive in the Gaza strip, even as the Palestinian death toll climbs past 500, making this the bloodiest conflict in Gaza since 2009.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund (@gregoireremund) and translated by Laura Morris.