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The Israeli position is that developing the region provides an opportunity to address the needs of a long neglected segment of the population.
“We are determined to narrow the gap (between the Negev and the rest of the country),” spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, told Reuters. “They are citizens of Israel and are entitled to all the opportunities associated with being citizens.”
ALIENATING THE COMMUNITY
Wadi Na’am, an unrecognised village like Atir, lies down a sunblasted stony track a short drive from the heart of the Negev “wine route”, with leafy Jewish-owned ranches that are popular weekend destinations for wine and cheese tasting.
Sitting in his small, concrete home, which a generator-powered fan labours in vain to cool, electrician and village council member Najib Abu Bneiyeh says Israeli policies are alienating the community.
Unlike the Arabs of the cities and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the Bedouin traditionally shied away from political activism and have volunteered in small numbers for Israel’s army, gaining renown for using ancient tracking skills to guard Israel’s frontiers.
“Many of us used to volunteer for military service,” Abu Bneiyeh said, looking at the yellowing pictures on the wall of relatives in combat fatigues. “But with the pressure we’re put under, the demolitions and the acts of racism we experience, the Arabs are doing this less and less.”
One complaint is that the committee drawing up the Prawer Plan, named after top Israeli planning official Ehud Prawer, had no Arab members and did not formally consult with the local representative body of the unrecognised villages.
“If the government were to recognise their villages, it would be obligated to provide services,” said Ofer Dagan of the Negev Coexistence Forum, a civil rights group.
“But the only way modernisation is offered to the Bedouin is through urban settlements, whereas the Jewish population is allowed a range of rural and agricultural modern settlements.”