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On Aug. 1, hundreds of people staged protests against the plan at a junction near one of the townships, waving Palestinian flags to show solidarity with those in the occupied territories whom they see as fellow victims of Israel’s appetite for land in the form of expanding Jewish settlements.
“We are part of the Palestinian nationality as well as citizens of the state of Israel, but the Prawer Plan is depriving our youth of a future,” Abu Bneiyeh said.
“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.”
The Bedouins of the Negev, called Naqab in Arabic, are descendants of the semi-nomadic Arab tribes that once roamed the desert expanses, herding and farming.
Unemployment, crime, the high school drop-out rate and female non-participation in the work force are much higher in the community than in Israeli society at large.
Over two-thirds of Negev Bedouin lived below the poverty line in 2007, over four times the rate of Jewish households, according to the National Insurance Institute.
In the seven state-recognised townships, 16.2 percent unemployment stood at more than double the national average and only about 2 percent points lower than in the unrecognised villages, the Israeli Employment Service found in 2009.
Netanyahu’s spokesman Regev acknowledged that previous governments had not done enough to raise the living standards of the Bedouin and said building up the Negev would benefit all Israeli citizens.
“The Negev as a whole is underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the country, and as part of the billions of shekels being invested into it, the government has budgeted affirmative action programs which will bring health care, infrastructure and education to the Bedouin community,” he said.
The government-sponsored report on the feasibility of the Prawer Plan said the “vast majority” of Bedouins in the illegal villages would not be much affected because the government would recognise some villages, while residents of others would be moving just “several hundred metres” into a township.
“By moving to a formal settlement … families will make it possible for their children to leap in time into the midst of the 21st century,” said the report by former minister Benny Begin. “Their destitution is accompanied by social problems that demand a comprehensive solution.”
Israel’s outlook can feel distant from the reality of Segev Shalom, a Bedouin township of around 8,000 where the green grass and palm trees planted in the main road median quickly give way to flat dusty expanses, trash fires and groups of idle youths.
“It’s like a warehouse, a dormitory where people just sleep at night and then go off to jobs on the outside by day,” said Khalil al-Jraibieh, who works in a small state-funded organisation that gives job training to young people.
“When we look at the Prawer Plan, which we totally reject, we see it as another racist law in a state built on racism.”