On Thursday, March 12th, 2015 the first public ‘town meeting’ took place, at the initiative of Council Mayor Shmulik Rifman, on the matter of establishing Bedouin settlements in Har-Hanegev. The key message conveyed at the town meeting was that “Ramat HaNegev Regional Council will act to advance the establishment of three Bedouin settlements in its jurisdiction in the Har-Hanegev area, subject to formulating a systematic work plan and getting all partners involved in finding suitable funding for the task.”
The meeting was attended by around 80 residents from the Council’s communities, by representatives of the Bedouins from Har-Hanegev as well as a representative from the Authority for Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev.
Eli Atzmon, advisor and expert on Bedouin affairs, presented the history and demographics as well as important planning, social and cultural issues and dilemmas related to the process, as seen from the perspective of the Bedouin population.
According to Atzmon, among the Bedouins there is, on the one hand, a distrust of the Israeli establishment, stemming from their poor economic and employment situation and fear of demolition of their homes. On the other hand, there is willingness (albeit reserved) by the young leadership among the Bedouin clans to generate an opportunity for change, a willingness to deal with the dilemma of maintaining their traditions while adapting them to the changing needs of individual and his/her future; and there is a sense of trust towards the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council and its mayor.
Moshe Moshe, representative of the Authority for Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, presented the authority’s official position, which holds that a settlement should be established at Zipporim junction for all clans in Har-Hanegev.
Sliman, representative of the Bedouins, shared with the residents the changes which the clans in Har-Hanegev are undergoing, such as in development of the tourist sector, the Bedouin population’s desire to maintain the clan and family tradition, yet at the same time to seek a better future in recognized and organized settlements. He also spoke about the cooperation between clans residing in the region and residents of Midreshet Ben-Gurion and Mizpeh Ramon, and about the relations that have been formed and the trust that has deepened with the Council leadership.
Shmulik Rifman presented the essence of his position and his proposal to establish three settlements at Har-Hanegev. According to him, “not regulating the issue of the Bedouins is a barrier to the development of Ramat Hanegev in particular, and the Negev as a whole.” “The resilience of Ramat Hanegev has increased,” claims Rifman, “and so has the demographic balance.” Moreover, in the Har-Hanegev region there are about 160 families (nearly one thousand people), which is different from the process we went through in establishing Beer Haj, where the Bedouin population was greater than that of Ramat Hanegev at the time.”
Presently, the Council has already increased the paid basket of municipal services for Bedouin residents, a step that has received full cooperation in Har-Hanegev.”
Summing up the evening, which featured many questions from the audience, Council CEO Hagai Reznik presented the principled framework for continuation of the process which will include:
1. Taking into account the views expressed by the audience and issues for further inquiry before formulating a detailed plan.
2. Formulating a detailed plan and work stages for the project – taking into account social, planning and financing aspects.
3. Deliberations and decisions by the Council’s assembly which will be open to the public.
4. At the general assembly meeting we will relate to all of the points raised here (some of which have already been posed by participants).