If pandemic hits, unrecognized Bedouin villages could ‘become like northern Italy’

Denied basic services, the Naqab's unrecognized villages are not equipped to deal with the coronavirus — and the Israeli government is not stepping in.

Bedouin collect their belongings from their demolished homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert,

The unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab/Negev in southern Israel are facing a crisis in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, say residents and activists. Due to the lack of infrastructure and health services, the communities are unable to follow the guidance set out by the Israeli Health Ministry.

Attiah al-Aasem, chair of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab, warns that “the coronavirus will worsen the day-to-day problems in the villages.” In the absence of utilities such as water, sewage, and garbage collection, residents are having to do their best to look after themselves, al-Aasem adds.

“The Naqab is liable to become like northern Italy,” says Salame Alatrash, head of the Al-Kasom Regional Council.“People are living in highly crowded conditions here. A 50-meter shack can house between seven to twelve people,” he says. “The government knows about the severe crowding and the lack of infrastructure. And what have they done all these years? We warned them it was going to lead to disaster.”

One resident of an unrecognized village says that there have been no preparations and that no personal protective equipment is available. “We’re aware [of the situation], but how will we protect ourselves?” he says. “We’re afraid, but we have to go to the grocery store.”

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