[News] Unrecognised villages in the Negev expose Israel's apartheid policies

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 23 12:06:14 EST 2005

Unrecognised villages in the Negev expose Israel's apartheid policies
Bangani Ngeleza and Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 21 December 2005


Eighty thousand Palestinian Bedouin Israelis live in unrecognised 
villages in the Negev desert in the south of Israel. The villages are 
deprived of basic services like housing, water, electricity, 
education and health care. With the adoption of the Israeli Planning 
and Construction Law in 1965, 45 villages in the Negev were not 
declared as existing. Recently, Bangani Ngeleza and Adri Nieuwhof 
visited the region. They write about the serious consequences this 
has had for villagers in these "unrecognised villages".

The majority of the villages existed at the time of the creation of 
Israel in 1948 and some were established in the early 1960's when 
Israel evacuated Bedouins from northern Negev to the south of 
Beersheba. Comparisons between the experiences of Palestinian 
Bedouins in the unrecognised villages and black South Africans in the 
informal settlements in apartheid South Africa is striking. Apartheid 
policies in South Africa were adopted to ensure the priviliged 
position of white South Africans. Israeli government policies are 
targeted to secure the priviliged position of Jewish Israelis. A 
government that divides its people and deprives part of its citizens 
of basic human rights does not show a serious commitment to peace.

Unrecognised villages in the Negev

The 80,000 Palestinian Bedouins living in unrecognised villages in 
the south of Israel are citizens of Israel. They have the right to 
vote in national elections and when they have a job or operate a 
business it is their duty to pay taxes. The majority have lived for 
generations in villages on their land in the Negev. Following the 
adoption of the Planning and Construction Law of 1965, the villages 
did not appear on any Israeli map. They were not recognised by any 
official government and ignored by all government planning projects.

As there is no municipal authority that governs the villages, the 
Bedouin Palestinians cannot vote or be elected for municipal 
representation. Villagers are deprived of basic infrastructure and 
services like roads, sewage, running water, electricity, clinics, 
kindergartens and welfare services. The families in the villages 
mostly live in shacks under zinc roofs where the temperature can 
reach as high as 55 degrees Celcius. There is no authority that can 
decide upon permits for the construction of properties. The building 
of houses in the villages is therefore unlicensed and they are at all 
times under threat of demolition. A former captain of the Negev 
police remarked that "there is an imbalance since there is only a 
destroying authority and no authority issuing construction permits".1


Half of the population of the Bedouins - about 40,000 - in the 
unrecognised villages is under the age of 18. In 2002, the infant 
mortality rate was 17.1 per 1000 births, as compared to the rate of 
4.5 among Jewish infants. The absence of sewerage and garbage 
collection systems leads to unhygienic living conditions, a major 
cause of diseases among children.

Children of the unrecognised villages have to travel sometimes 
between 40 to 60 kilometres to school. They have to walk from the 
village to the main road to wait for transport. The majority of the 
children do not attend kindergarten, because there is no one in their 
village. This is against a law that rules that education is 
compulsory for four year old children. Specifically, the Compulsory 
Education Law requires the government to provide free and compulsory 
education for every child aged between 5 and15 years, regardless of 
whether a child has been registered in the Ministry of Interior's 
Population Registry or even if the child's parents are illegal 
residents. Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs proudly claims this 
as part of its commitment to social and welfare rights.2

Yet 40 per cent of the children drop out before finishing high 
school, and of the children who manage to go to high school only 27 
per cent pass the matriculation exams.

Policy of removal

The policy of removal of Palestinians from Israel is as old as the 
creation of the state in 1948 and is illustrated by Prime Minister 
Ben Gurion, who said during a visit to Nazareth, "Why are there so 
many Arabs here? Why didn't you chase them away?"3

After lifting the military rule that was in force from 1948 to 1966 
in the Negev and the Galilee, Israel's policy continued to target the 
removal of the Bedouin population. During this period, over 50,000 
Bedouins were transferred to seven townships that were planned 
specifically for this group. The townships are densely populated and 
uprooted the Bedouin families from their traditional way of life. The 
"concentration towns" are the poorest and most neglected towns in 
Israel. In the process of removal the land belonging to the Bedouin 
families was confiscated.

In April 2003, a six-year plan was approved by Sharon's government 
with the stated aim to change the population's condition, settle land 
disputes and bolster law enforcement in relation to the Bedouin 
sector in the Negev. The plan was developed without consulting the 
Bedouin community in the Negev. In practice, the focus of activities 
within the plan for the coming years is "enforcement", which means 
massive house demolitions.

Large sums of the budget are allocated to the Israeli police force. 
The cabinet of Sharon approved a $250 million budget to force 
Bedouins from 45 unrecognised villages to leave their homes. At the 
same time, the government is planning the development of new Jewish 
settlements throughout the Negev. According to fieldworkers of the 
Regional Council of Unrecognised Villages in the Negev, every week a 
few shacks are demolished by Israel's giant Caterpillar bulldozers. 
The strategy is to demolish a few houses there, avoiding large scale 
demolition of villages. The message to the Bedouins is that they had 
better move soon or be removed forcefully.

Informal Settlements in South Africa

The existence of informal settlements in South Africa today reflects 
an apartheid legacy that stripped Africans of their right to live 
where they wished. It will take the present government years and 
significant amounts of capital investment to address the housing backlogs.

There are disturbing similarities in living conditions between 
unrecognised villages and informal settlements under apartheid. These 
include lack of access to adequate potable water, lack of proper 
sanitation facilities, absence of proper road infrastructure, the 
lack of educational facilities, houses built of corrugated iron 
sheets (in some cases of black plastics and cardboard) etc.

The similarities are striking between racially based policies that 
lay behind the creation of white settlements under the apartheid 
regime in South Africa then and the estabslishment of Jewish 
settlements by the Israeli government.

Policy Rationale in Apartheid South Africa

The policy of influx control was introduced in South Africa in the 
1960's as a mechanism for limiting the number of black Africans 
within 87 per cent of the land area that was designated as "white 
South Africa" under the 1913 Land Act. This policy had three 
components: (a) the Group Areas Act, which prohibited Africans from 
being present in South Africa for more that seventy two hours without 
official permission; (b) labour bureaus, which matched African 
workers with specific jobs and then granted them the required 
official permission to work for a specific employer and live in a 
designated township; and (c) strict enforcement of the Group Areas 
Act.4 This policy was implemented with zeal by the apartheid regime, 
with an extraordinary number of 5.8 million prosecutions under laws 
restricting movement in the decade between 1966-75. Effectively, this 
policy restricted African citizenship to 13 per cent of the poorest 
land area that was declared as part of its so-called "homeland" policy.

Forced Removals

The influx control policy was pursued in South Africa through 
expulsions. These saw the forced removal of over 3.5 million black 
people (Africans, "Coloured" and Indians) during the 1960's, 1970's 
and 1980's. In the 1950's, over 600,000 people were forcefully 
removed from Johannesburg and dumped in a labour reserve/township, 
known as the Southwest Township (SOWETO) in overcrowded conditions. 
SOWETO was located 10 kilometres away from Johannesburg, initially 
with no amenities.

Forced removals also happened in Cato Manor (Mkhumbane) in Durban and 
District Six in Cape Town where 55,000 people were forcefully moved. 
The influx control policy meant that only those Africans that had 
permits to be in South Africa could remain within these reserves. 
Those who were found without such permits were regularly rounded up, 
detained and then trucked to the borders with homelands where they 
were dumped. This was effectively a measure to secure the demographic 
imperative of ensuring a white majority in the so called "white" 
South Africa. It was a policy similar to that of the Israeli 
government in securing a Jewish majority in Israel through mass expulsions.

The emergence of the informal settlement phenomenon

The repeal of influx control legislation during the last years of 
apartheid saw a movement of African people from the impoverished 
rural areas (homelands) to urban areas (which were erstwhile reserved 
for "whites") in search of a better life (employment, education etc). 
 From 1976, the apartheid regime did not construct any new housing 
stock to accommodate black people in urban areas as part of its 
racial policies of limiting black movement. The result of this 
urbanisation phenomenon was the creation of shanty towns where people 
settled informally, in the backyards of township dwellings, in open 
spaces adjourning townships and closer to cities and in border towns 
next to homelands. In 1994, when the African National Congress 
government came to power in the country's first democratic elections, 
there was one housing unit for every 43 Africans as opposed to one 
for every 3.5 whites. The housing backlog was estimated at 1.3 
million housing units, with between 7.5 and 10 million people in 
informal dwellings.5

The future of Israel lies in the end of apartheid

Apartheid policies in South Africa were adopted to ensure the 
privilaged position of white South Africans, as Israeli policies are 
targeted to secure the priviliged position of Jewish Israelis. A 
government that divides its people and deprives some of its citizens 
basic human rights does not show a serious commitment to peace. With 
the continuation of these divisive policies, it is difficult to take 
Sharon's rhetoric about working for peace seriously. The challenge 
for Israel is to arrive at a solution that will guarantee equality 
for all its citizens regardless of race, gender, religion and so on, 
within a democratic state. Pressure must be put on the state of 
Israel to abandon its apartheid policies, including its refusal to 
recognise the existence of villages composed of its own citizens 
living within its national borders.

The material conditions of Bedouins living in unrecognised villages 
brings into sharp focus the sense of outrage that moved Nelson 
Mandela who, on the occasion of the Rivonia trial in 1964 at which he 
and other ANC leaders faced the possibility of the death penalty said,

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against 
black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free 
society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal 
opportunties. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and wish to 
achieve, but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die".

Bangani Ngeleza and Adri Nieuwhof are independent consultants from 
respectively South Africa and the Netherlands. Ngeleza participated 
in the liberation struggle of the ANC to overcome apartheid in South 
Africa, and Nieuwhof supported the struggle as a member of Holland 
Committee on Southern Africa the ANC in achieving its goals.


[1] More information is available on the website of the 
<http://www.rcuv.org>Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the 
Negev: www.rcuv.org

[2] See Yoram Rabin, A Free People in Our Land: Welfare and 
Socio-Economic Rights in Israel, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
(1 April 2005); 
factsheet: Israel, CRC/C/8/Add. 44 (27 February 2002)

Middle East View by Mennonite Church Liaison (PDF), Glenn Edward 
Witmer (November 2005)

[4] <http://www.geocities.com/~anntothill/demo/price4.htm>The 
Instruments of Apartheid: Dealing with the "Black Threat"

[5] <http://richardknight.homestead.com>Richard Knight

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