Bedouin Palestinians of the Naqab

A JfJfP Briefing Note on the Expulsion of the Bedouin Palestinians of the Naqab


June 2012

Added September 2013:  JfJfP- 4pp leaflet on the Prawer plan (as per the slightly revised leaflet dated October).

In September 2011, the Israeli government approved the provisions recommended within the Prawer Report for the relocation of some 30,000 Bedouin in the Naqab (largely from the unrecognized villages) to ‘communities with official status’ (Haaretz September 12, 2011) otherwise known as development sites/towns designated by the Government. This briefing provides current information regarding the Bedouin struggle in the Naqab, the policies and actions of the Israeli government and its ally organizations. It is based on information published in reports of international and grassroots organizations, as well as academic articles, newspaper articles and websites.


Prior to the formation of Israel in 1948, there were around 75,000 to 90,000 Bedouin in the Naqab (Mihlar, 2011). Most of the Bedouin residents were expelled to the Gaza area or Jordan during 1947/48 with only 12% of the original Arab population remaining in the Naqab, later to receive Israeli citizenship (Adalah, 2011:5).  With their livelihood mostly based on agriculture and cattle-grazing, land ownership was transferred from one generation to the next following tribal laws and customs.  A complicated history of land registration under Ottoman Land laws and under the British Mandate left Bedouin communities vulnerable to dispossession under Israeli jurisdiction.

Shortly after the Nakba, Israeli forcibly relocated Bedouin communities who remained in the Naqab into a concentrated and smaller area that corresponded to 900km2, located between Be’er Sheva, Arad and Dimona and known as the Siyag (Adalah,2011:8), a rocky area that did not offer the same conditions for cultivation (Adalah, 2011:8). The Bedouin had previously lived in an area of 13 million dunams, within the Siyag Bedouin live in an area of only 1.5 million dunams (Mihlar, 2011:3). The area outside the Siyag was appropriated by the State, declared closed military zones – Bedouin were prevented from returning (Adalah, 2011:8).

Naqab Bedouin before 1948 and after 1948
Before 1948 After 1948
Bedouin had access to 3.2 million acres of land In 2007 they only had access to 59.000, 0.8% of the Naqab area
There were around 75.000 to 90.000 Bedouin in the Negev After the Nakba (1948) only 10.000 to 11.000 remained in the area
95 Bedouin tribes 19 Bedouin tribes – 11 of the 19 Bedouin tribes who remained in Israel became internally displaced; the other eight tribes already inhabited the Siyag.
35% of the Bedouin population of the area (around 70.000 people) live in 35 unrecognized villages.
Every year the government demolishes 300 Bedouin homes. Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

In 1953 the Land Acquisition Law enabled the state to register the previously confiscated land in its name if the owner was not in the property at the time. Many Bedouin were forced out and several legal restrictions acted to prevent their return to reclaim their land (Mihlar, 2011:3 and White, 2012:28). In the 1960s an inter-ministerial committee was established to evaluate areas for residential construction in the Naqab as well as to develop townships for the Bedouin population (White, 2012: 29). The master plan created in 1965 for the development and urbanization of the Naqab was done without Bedouin consultation, did not recognize Bedouin land ownership, and claimed that most Bedouin land was state-land. Under this master plan, buildings in these areas were considered illegal and could not be connected to infrastructure facilities like water or electricity (Mihlar, 2011:3).

Master plans for the northern Negev, prepared in accordance with the 1965 Planning and Building Law, entirely ignored the existence of the Bedouin villages and their residents’ land rights. In the master plan, Bedouin lands were designated as agricultural land, or under other such headings as industrial, military, infrastructure, etc., all with the same result – that residential construction in these areas was prohibited (ACRI, 2011:1)

As a strategy to concentrate the remaining Bedouin population of the Naqab in areas that ‘would not be detrimental to the interests of settling Jewish citizens in the area’ (Adalah, 2011: 9) and to reduce the Bedouin land dispute, towns for the Bedouin were established from 1969. There are seven Bedouin towns in the Naqab  – Rahat, Tel Sheva, Kseifa, Arara of the Negev, Segev Shalom, Houra, and Laqiyya. The Bedouin in the area of the Siyag were forcibly settled on land that belonged to other Bedouin tribes (including those whose ancestral land was in the area now demarcated as the Siyag), who themselves had either fled or been moved. Only nineteen of the previous ninety-five Bedouin tribes remained in the area designated as the Siyag (Mihlar, 2011:3; Falah, 1989). The traditional cultural and geographic demarcations and ownership of Bedouin lands were disrupted and fragmented. Those Bedouin determined not to be forcibly moved into the towns, who acted to avoid a state policy of sedentarization and to stay on either their ancestral lands or the lands onto which they had been moved in the 1940s and 1950s, now live in dozens of unrecognized villages. Although constitutionally citizens of the state, the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages, half the Bedouin population of the Naqab (Makdisi, 2008:238) live with illegality – their villages do not appear on any maps, they receive no municipal or state services, and no electricity, garbage collection, water supplies, education or health facilities, have no address, receive no mail, and have no roads to their villages. The Bedouin understand that they are neither on the legal nor political map of Israel. Some argue that the traditional Bedouin approach to land possession and ownership eased the Israel deployment of a legal process of land expropriation in the Naqab (White, 2012: 28).

Through these laws and procedures, the Bedouin land was confiscated and designated military, agricultural or state land, condemning not only building structures, but placing whole villages and its citizens into illegality. Although, the numbers vary according to the source, it is estimated that there are 200,000 Bedouin in the Negev nowadays. Around 45% live in the seven townships, 25% live in the 11 recently recognized villages and 35% (around 70,000 people) live in 35 unrecognized villages (Mihlar, 2011). An ACRI Policy Brief (2011) summarized the current situation:

Bedouin villagers were placed in the impossible situation that continues to this day whereby they cannot legally obtain any building permits, and the homes in which they were born and raised are considered illegal by the state. These homes are perpetually under the threat of demolition and of incurring fines. It should be obvious that any construction without permits in the unrecognized villages is performed not out of a desire to break or flout the law, but out of necessity – a necessity created by the state policy which refuses to recognize the Bedouin rights to their land. At the same time, the state continues to establish new rural Jewish settlements in the Negev. More than one hundred Jewish settlements exist today in the Be’er Sheva district, with an average population of only 300 residents.

In 1989 Falah reported that the ‘provision of basic services in the existing townships’ – in the recognized villages or in the development towns – ‘is highly unsatisfactory and in no way comparable to that in any of the neighbouring Jewish towns in the region (Falah, 1989:88).  Twenty years later ‘the glaring result of long years of discrimination is a series of third-world enclaves in the midst of an affluent society’ (Abu-Sa’ad, 2003:1). Bedouin townships are overcrowded and have the lowest social and economic development in Israel, facing high rates of unemployment and crime (Mihlar, 2011:7).

Resolving Land Ownership Claims – the Goldberg Commission

In 2007, the Israeli government established the Goldberg Commission to report on regulating Arab settlement in the Naqab. The Commission was made up of six Jews and two Arabs, none of whom lived in the unrecognized villages. The Commission’s findings, published in late 2008, were regarded as a hint of hope for some of those working on the issue, as it suggested that most of the villages be recognized and that a committee to resolve the land ownership claims be established (ACRI, 2011:2). In their response to the recommendations from the Goldberg Committee, the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) put forward two foundational principles that they say are at the heart of the disagreement between the Bedouin of the Naqab and the State – a recognition of injustice, and a recognition of the legal, moral and historic rights of the Bedouin to their lands (RCUV, 2008)

Implementing the Goldberg Recommendations – the Prawer Plan

In May 2009, the Prawer committee was established to implement the Goldberg suggestions. Instead of following the Goldberg recommendations, the Prawer committee outlined a new plan that disregards the property rights of most Arab Bedouin and ‘rather than leading the Naqab into a process of reconciliation and to an agreed upon development plan, the Prawer Plan deepens the conflict between the Arab Bedouin citizens and the state’  (Rass and Yiftachel, 2012:1).

In September 2011, the Israeli cabinet decided to proceed with the criticized Prawer Plan.  Developed without any consultation with Bedouin communities, the Prawer Plan will in practice extinguish Bedouin land claims without a just compensation (Mihlar, 2011:1). As Bedouin are displaced and moved from the unrecognized villages into townships, large Jewish-owned private farms in the area are legalized by the state (HRW, 2012). According to Adalah, besides the lack of Bedouin consultation, the planning arrangements forbid Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel from living or claiming land in entire areas of the Naqab demolishing most of the unrecognized villages and displacing 40,000 people. Adalah reports that the Prawer Committee adopted the Goldberg Committee’s new criteria for establishing Arab Bedouin towns (population density, continuity, size and economic capacity) that are not applied to Jewish towns in the Naqab, differentiating Jewish and Arab land and planning requirements in the area (Adalah, 2011).

The master plan of the Prawer Plan disregards the property rights of the majority of Arab Bedouin who have owned land in the Naqab since before 1948. Instead of amending an historic injustice, the law imposes a second displacement offering Bedouin less than 1% of the Naqab land, a tenth of the area they claim as their ancestral lands. As the Prime Minister’s office will be the one regulating the Bedouin areas, this raises doubts about the real intention of the operation and the lack of appropriate representation of the Bedouin communities (Abu Rass and Yiftachel, 2012)

The seven planned Bedouin townships are the most deprived cities within Israel. Abu-Sa’ad highlights the main problems faced by the townships in the Naqab as:

  • the shortage of land and lack of adequate services. The land designated for these towns are insufficient to accommodate the population and the infrastructure needed such as new business, community spaces, and infrastructure.  The Bedouin towns do not have an appropriate sewage system, public transportation, or leisure areas. The neighbouring land cannot be used for expansion as they belong to the state, kibbutzim or other organizations;
  • the inadequate budget allocated for the Bedouin councils as ‘the very formulas used to calculate the funds budgeted for these towns were discriminatory, and the development grants allotted to them were miniscule, in view of the urgent needs and compared with what is allotted to Jewish towns’ (Abu-Sa’ad, 2003:3);
  • the lack of local autonomy. In the period up to 2000 the five new Bedouin town council representatives were appointed by the Interior Ministry and were not Bedouin;
  • the lack of an economic base and of public sector jobs, in addition to an inferior education system;
  •  the inferior health service and the shortage of staff in the local social services department – ‘Bedouin towns have no more than one quarter the number of staff found in social services departments in Jewish towns of similar size’ (Abu-Sa’ad, 2003:4). The programs Israel designed do not take into account the needs and interests of the Bedouin communities, nor do Bedouin participate in the planning process. The government commitment to amend distortions in priorities and funding as well as the state promises to extinguish systematic discrimination have for the most part not been honoured (Abu-Sa’ad, 2003:7):

the vast gaps between the Bedouin and their Jewish neighbours  contribute to amplifying the Bedouins’ sense of outrage, demonstrating very clearly that the urbanization policy has failed  and that a fundamentally different approach is needed. The issue of the failure of the policy of urbanizing the Negev Bedouin is part of the larger question of intentional discrimination by the Israeli Jewish establishment toward the Arab minority (Abu-Sa’ad, 2003:7).

The Negev in the Israeli imagination

Jewish settlement of the Negev has been an aim since before the establishment of the state and demographic hegemony continues to propel plans for expanding Jewish settlement. The Negev has been regarded as an empty space, a space that, according to Ben Gurion, ‘offers the greatest opportunity to accomplish everything from the very beginning’. Pioneering and making the desert bloom frame the ideological and political efforts to Judaize the Negev lands. For Israel, the Bedouin are squatters, trespasses or invaders on state lands (Makdisi, 2011:118). Legal, technical, moral and political force combine to render Bedouin claims ahistorical, invisible, and without (recognizable) foundation. Ranged against them are the JNF, the Lands Authority, the Green Patrol, and the legislative process, together with a history of legal determination of land registration and ownership. Bedouin claims have in large part, been rejected by the courts.

The Role of the JNF

The JNF considers its role as ‘caretaker of the land and people of Israel’. It owns 13% of the land of Israel and, since it holds almost half of the seats of the Israel Land Authority (ILA) Council, which controls around 80% of the land in Israel (JNF Ebook, 2011:6) the JNF effectively controls 93% of the land of Israel.

In its response to petitions submitted to the Supreme Court in 2004 by Palestinian human rights organizations Adalah and ACRI, that an Israeli Lands Authority (ILA) and JNF policy preventing Arab citizens from bidding for the allocation of JNF-owned lands through tender be cancelled, the JNF held that it acted for the benefit of Jews and not for the general public in Israel (Adalah, 2004) and that the lands it holds are not state lands (JNF in Adalah, 2004). The JNF maintained that is it the ‘owner of an eternal possession of the Jewish people’, not a public body but rather a ‘private landowner and as a trustee of the Jewish people … not obliged to act equally towards all of the citizens of the state in the allocation of lands’, and that its actions are not discriminatory. The JNF deposition emphasized that equality is a relative principle: “It cannot be the prophecy of all matters, as other interests may be stronger” and that the value of equality would ‘retreat before the fundamental principle’ that ‘acquiring lands with funds from and on behalf of the Jewish people, as well as their allocation to Jews, are a realization of a fundamental principle of the State of Israel and of our legal system … the fundamental constitutional foundation of the state as a Jewish state’. The JNF reiterated that its Memorandum (as approved by the Minister of Justice) established the goals of the JNF as being :

To purchase, acquire on lease or in exchange, to receive via lease or in another mannerlands, forests, possession rights and liens and all the rights attenuated therein, and, too, any type of permanent properties in the prescribed region (which expression shall in this Memorandum mean the state of Israel in any area within the jurisdiction of the Government of Israel) or any part thereof, for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties(Excerpts from the Jewish National Fund’s Response to the High Court, p. 88, emphasis in original).

The JNF portrays itself as a ‘global environmental leader’. The JNF enjoys charitable status in around 50 countries – in the UK it is registered as JNF Charitable Trust, as an organisation raising funds for environmental and humanitarian causes in Israel.  In the 2010 annual report of the JNF Charitable Trust (JNF UK), the JNF set out its focus on ‘a range of environmental, human-related and infrastructural projects, each of which is aimed at securing Israel’s future well-being, prosperity and security. Today our particular focus is on the Development of the Negev’ (JNF Annual Report, 2010).

The JNF developed what it calls the Blueprint for the Negev as a development and planning outline for the extensive settlement of Israeli Jews throughout the Negev region. The Naqab corresponds to 60% of the Israel territory and the Israeli government expects to encourage 300,000 Israelis to move to the region by 2020 (JNF, 2010:8). According to the JNF, Blueprint Negev is the JNF’s ‘major initiative to revitalize Israel’s southern region  – a … far reaching and visionary plan to increase the area’s population and improve living conditions for all of its inhabitants. The blueprint includes community development, housing, employment, environmental sustainability, agricultural research and development, water treatment, restoration and cachement, tourism and recreation, education and security’. Working with Bedouin communities is one of the Blueprint’s many projects. In summary the JNF describes Working with Bedouin Communities in these terms:

‘The needs of the Bedouin community and the changes that must come about are one of the original pillars of Blueprint Negev. Their challenges are many:

  • Today, over 160,000 Bedouin live in the Negev. Their nomadic existence ceased in the 1950s.
  • The unemployment rate for Bedouin is 90%. The rate of birth among the Bedouin community is extremely high — 6.5% — the highest in the world — continuing the cycle of poverty.
  • School through age 16 is mandatory by law, but 90% of the population does not receive a high school education. Only 10% of the girls go to any school at all.
  • Communities have high crime rate and substance abuse rates.
  • Few social activities or venues exist for the children’.

The JNF has ‘evaded concerted scrutiny’, according to Manski, because it is not an organization that ‘directly slates Bedouin Villages for demolition, and because of the JNF’s historical image as a treeplanting organization’ (2011: 34). As a ‘non-profit organization with quasi-state powers’, the JNF is deeply involved in the demolitions of the unrecognised villages through its close links with the ILA (Manski, 2011:13); the line between demolition and greening is blurred (Manski, 2011).

This blurring is evident in the history of demolition of the village of Al Araqib. Most recently demolished for the 34th time, the JNF began planting a forest on the village’s land regardless of an impending court hearing. Such action stands in clear contrast to the stated aims of the JNF’s Blueprint Negev. According to the Negev Co-existence Forum Director, Haia Noach:

The mechanism of dispossession has used all the governmental units available: green patrol cars, police and special units accompanied by bulldozers are standing in front of dozens of village residents and activists, who are trying to save what little slice of land that remains for the village,” she said. “Instead of finding an agreed-upon solution and waiting for the court’s decision, JNF-KKL comes to the village under massive police protection and takes the last lands of the village. The residents of the Negev don’t need more forests. We need sustainable equality and the application of the right to an adequate standard of living for all the residents of the Negev (

Recommendations for action:

  • Map the overlay between the demolitions and evictions of Bedouin and the activity of the JNF in the Naqab
  • Document the role/operation of the JNF in a selected set of case studies of demolitions, afforestation and displacement of Bedouin communities.
  • Map the JNF afforestation/planting projects and plans across the Naqab.

This briefing has been prepared by Annie Pfingst with research by Iara Simis


REFERENCES (unfortunately some of these links no longer work, Oct 2015)

Abu-Sa’ad, I (2003) Bedouin Towns in Israel at the start of the 21st Century: The Negev Bedouin and The Failure Of The Urban Resettlement Program [consulted 16 March 2012]

ACRI (2011) Principles for arranging recognition of Bedouin Villages in the Naqab [consulted 6 February 2012]

ADALAH (2011) Nomads Against Their Will – The attempted expulsion of the Arab

Bedouin in the Naqab: The example of Atir–Umm al-Hieran  Haifa: ADALAH. [consulted 1 April 2012]

Adalah (2004), News Update, 23 December 2004, Jewish National Fund in Response to Adalah Petition: We act for the benefit of the Jewish people only and not for the general public in Israel

Falah, G. (1989) ‘Israeli State Policy toward Bedouin Sedentarization in the Negev’ Journal of Palestine Studies 18, (2) 71-91

Goering, K. (1979) ‘Israel and the Bedouin of the Negev’ Journal of Palestine Studies 9, (1) 3-20

HRW (Human Rights Watch) (2008) Off the Map: Land and Housing Rights Violations in Israel’s Unrecognized Bedouin Villages [online] New York: Human Rights Watch. [consulted 11 April]

IDMC (2009) Israel: short-terms and protracted displacements following various conflicts  Geneva: IDMC  [consulted 16 March]

JNF UK (2010) Annual Report [consulted 26 March 2012]

Jewish National Fund, ‘JNF Lands are not State Lands: JNF trusteeship is not given to the entirety of the population, but rather is the sole preserve of the Jewish people’, in Adalah, Excerpts from the Jewish National Fund’s Response to H.C.9205/04 and H.C.9010/04, Jerusalem, 2004, p.90

Lehn, W. (1974) ‘The Jewish National Fund’ Journal of Palestine Studies 3, (4) 74-96

Manski, R. (2011)  ‘Bluing the Desert’ In JNF e Book Ongoing Ethnic Cleansing:

Judaizing the Naqab Ar’ara: AL-BEIT

Mihlar, F. (2011) Israel’s denial of Bedouin London: Minority Rights Group International

Norwegian Refugee Council – Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and UN

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2008) Guidance on Profiling Internally Displaced Persons Geneva: NRC-IDMC and OCHA.  [consulted 7 April 2012]

Nasasra, M. (2011) ‘Before you expel the Bedouin…’ The Negev Coexistence Forum Newsletter 15th Edition October: 1-2

Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (2010) The Arab-Bedouin in the Negev-Naqab Desert in Israel  [consulted 19 March 2012]

Rass, T. A. and Yiftachel, O. (2012) ‘Four reasons to reject the “Prawer

Plan”’, Adalah’s newsletter Volume 89. Available from < > [consulted 6 February 2012]

Saad, I. A. (1991) ‘Towards an understanding of Minority Education in Israel: The Case of the Bedouin Arabs of the Negev’ Comparative Education 27, (2) 235-242

White, B. (2012) Palestinians in Israel: segregation, discrimination and democracy.   London: Pluto Press






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