Israeli town with anti-Bedouin bias earmarked for Dutch water project

An Israeli town set to benefit from a water project by the Dutch branch of the Jewish National Fund denies adequate health treatment to Bedouins living nearby, according to a human rights group.

Approximately 250 Palestinian Bedouin families from the village of Abda depend for medical care on the clinic in Mitzpe Ramon, a Jewish town in the Negev/Naqab region of present-day Israel. The latest newsletter from Adalah, an organization campaigning for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, documents how the clinic discriminates against those families. 

In 1994, the Israeli high court ruled — after a hard struggle by the people of Abda — that the government had to open a clinic in the village’s school. Over the years, the opening hours have been gradually reduced. Now the clinic is only open for two hours on Thursdays and Fridays. The doctors of the clinic in Mitzpe Ramon are responsible for providing medical care services to Abda. Even with its severely reduced hours, the clinic can be closed when the doctors have no time to drive to Abda because they are too busy treating patients from Mitzpe Ramon.

The villagers who need medical care outside the opening hours of the village clinic need to travel 26 kilometers to Mitzpe Ramon. This is a challenging undertaking if one depends on public transport, because the nearest bus stop is four kilometers from Abda, a village not recognized by the Israeli state. 

Upon arrival at the Mitze Ramon clinic, the patients are often told that “they should have set up an appointment earlier,” according to Adalah. Patients sometimes have to wait weeks for an appointment.

Language barrier

Language is another obstacle in obtaining effective health care, in particular for the elderly, who make up 40 percent of Abda’s population. The majority of the elderly do not speak Hebrew. Despite clear government regulations that all health institutions must provide access to translators, staff in the Mitzpe Ramon clinic do not provide Arabic translation to the indigenous Palestinians from Abda.

This means that Palestinians are treated less favorably than Russian and Ethiopian Jews who have settled in Mitzpe Ramon and can receive medical advice in their own language.

This discrimination is in breach of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which upholds the right to public health and medical care without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin.

Adalah’s findings should be a wake-up call to the Dutch government, which treats the Jewish National Fund as a charity. As I wrote in April, the JNF is planning a water project in Mitzpe Ramon. The project is due to be named after King Willem-Alexander, the new monarch in the Netherlands. 

The charter of the Dutch branch of the JNF explicitly mentions the Jewish people as the beneficiary of its activities. By definition, then, the project in Mitzpe Ramon is designed to serve the Jewish population and not the indigenous Palestinian Bedouins from the nearby village of Abda.

The principle of non-discrimination is enshrined in the first article of Netherlands’ constitution. If the Dutch authorities allow the JNF proceed with its water project, they will be trampling over values that are of pivotal importance to their country.




Dear Adri,
thank you for your article. I don't think there is a direct link between the JNF 'royal' waterproject for Mitzpe Ramon and the gradual denial of healthservices to the Palestinian Bedouins of Abda. Your article makes perfectly clear however the cumulative effect of JNF priority policy, adressing the needs of Israeli jews first and foremost, instead of. adressing the needs of the population in general on an equal basis. Favouring Israeli jews as the JNF does, goes hand in hand by neglecting or even obstructing the rights of others. At the start of this road there is a distinction between categories of people who will profit from projects, and who will not,at the end there is social deprevation.

Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh