Adalah Demands Cancellation of the Government’s “Negev 2015: The National Strategic Plan for the Development of the Negev (Naqab)” as it Ignores the Needs of the Arab Bedouin
On 28 January 2007, Adalah sent a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, demanding the cancellation of “Negev 2015: The National Strategic Plan for the Development of the Negev (Naqab)” on the grounds that it discriminates against Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and is based on illegal and invalid governmental decisions. Adalah also demanded that a new development plan be prepared that sets as one of its main goals the development of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab, based on the principles of equality and justice in resource allocation, and fulfills the needs of this community in all fields. The letter was written by Adalah’s Urban and Regional Planner, Hana Hamdan; Adalah’s Researcher in the Naqab, Salem Abu-Medeghem; and Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara.
The plan’s stated aim is to promote the development and growth of the Naqab between 2006-2015, and is designed to achieve four main goals: (1) Population - to increase the population of the Naqab from approximately 535,000 (at the end of 2003) to approximately 900,000 by 2015; (2) Employment - to increase the number of employed persons in the Naqab from approximately 164,000 (at the end of 2003) to approximately 300,000 by 2015; (3) Wages - to reduce by 60% the average per capita income gap between the Naqab and the national average; and (4) Students - to make the number of students among the Jewish population in the 20-29 age bracket (12.1%) equal to the national average (15.6%) and increase the number of students in the Bedouin population in the 2029 age bracket from 2.2% (as of 2001) to at least 5% by 2015. The plan will concentrate in five main areas: economic development; education; housing and communities; infrastructure and environmental development; and community leadership. Between 2006 and 2015, the government will allocate, directly and indirectly, NIS 17 billion (approximately US $4 billion). The plan was approved by the government in November 2005, but was frozen due to the Second Lebanon War. In November 2006, the government decided to begin implementation of the plan with some modifications, and to allocate a budget of NIS 340 million (US $80 million) for 2007.
In the letter, Adalah addressed problems in three components of the plan: housing and communities, economic development, and education.
Housing and Communities
The letter provided background information on the current housing and settlement situation in the Naqab, including the jurisdictional and spatial divisions and segregation between Arab and Jewish citizens, and the problem of the unrecognized villages. The plan allocates NIS 1.2 billion (US $282 million) for housing over ten years. One main element is the proposed development and addition of about 10,000 “special properties” housing units, 100 individual settlements, and 65,000 regular housing units, almost all of which is designated for Jewish towns and the Jewish community. The plan completely neglects the Arab community’s current and future housing needs, and it offers no options for them to make choices between various lifestyles (e.g., to live in cities, community towns, agricultural villages, etc.).
Regarding “special properties”, the plan suggests an investment of NIS 350 million in seven towns with the capacity for such development. All of the towns and agricultural villages chosen for this development are Jewish. As for “individual settlements,” the plan offers huge land space to individuals for agricultural and tourist usage. At the same time, the plan suggests evacuating and demolishing the unrecognized villages and moving all of their Arab Bedouin inhabitants (around 70,000 people) to the government-planned towns rather than proposing suitable solutions as called for by the Arab Bedouin community.
The plan also proposes the development of the infrastructure and social services of five neighborhoods in urban localities in the Naqab. This item is budgeted at NIS 700 million. The plan does not designate or list these neighborhoods, nor does it list the criteria to be employed in selecting the five neighborhoods.
Further, the plan suggests a 50% discount for land leasers or purchasers on development fees (i.e. fees for infrastructure and preparing the land for building) in peripheral areas classified as “National Priority Area A.” In February 2006, an expanded seven-justice panel of the Supreme Court in H.C. 2773/98 / H.C. 11163/03, The High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, et al. v. The Prime Minister of Israel, ruled that the government’s decision to divide the state into National Priority Areas is illegal as it discriminates against Arab citizens of Israel on the basis of nationality, and that it was made without proper legislative authorization.
The plan also contains a section on development in the Arab towns in the Naqab, which is also called “special properties”. In accordance with this section of the plan, multi-purpose housing could be built for residential and business purposes; residential units should be surrounded by land for agriculture; and plots of lands could be used by families for three generations. However, the plan allocates no money for this proposed development.
Thus, in the field of housing and communities, the plan basically perpetuates the governmental policy of encouraging Jewish citizens to relocate to the Naqab, by providing them with multiple housing and land use options, and of simultaneously concentrating the Arab Bedouin on the smallest possible land area. The plan does not give any solutions to the current harsh situation and problems that exist, and does not allocate resources to or allow spatial development for the benefit of the Arab community.
In the letter, Adalah acknowledged that the plan does allocate some funds for economic development of the Arab community in the Naqab, but argued that it is insufficient to resolve the problems in this field over ten years. The plan essentially ignores the dire socio-economic situation of the Arab Bedouin. For example, according to official figures, the unemployment rate among the Arab Bedouin is 15.4%, which is more than double the national average rate of 7.7%. Adalah emphasized that the percentage of unemployment is actually much higher, especially among Arab Bedouin women, most of whom are not registered with an unemployment bureau. The letter also presents statistics on the percentage of the Arab Bedouin living in the Naqab who participate in the labor force, and the average wage of the Arab Bedouin in the seven government-planned towns in the Naqab, which is NIS 3,448, approximately half of the general average wage in the Naqab (NIS 6,653). Furthermore, according to an official report published by the National Insurance Institute issued in October 2005, Arab Bedouin women earn on average NIS 1,637 per month.
The plan also proposes the establishment of 17,000 to 25,000 new workplaces over a ten-year period for the Arab Bedouin population. According to official estimates, this community currently needs around 10,000 workplaces, and thus, as Adalah argued, the planned development does not fulfill their future needs, taking into account the high birth rate and the high number of individuals who potentially need to be integrated into the workforce, particularly Arab Bedouin women.
Furthermore, the plan suggests focusing on “strong economic fields” such as high-tech industries, chemistry and electronics, and adding workplaces for these individuals with a high level of related educational qualifications and skills. Importantly, Adalah emphasized, Arab Bedouin comprise only 2.2% of university students between the ages of 20 and 29. The plan does not offer suggestions for how to increase this percentage or how to train the Arab Bedouin for these and other professions. A great obstacle to economic development and employment, especially for Arab Bedouin women, is the lack of infrastructure and public transportation to connect the unrecognized villages to universities, colleges, and potential workplaces.
In the letter, Adalah provides numerous statistics regarding the low educational attainment level within the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab as compared with the Jewish community. For example, the percentage of Arab Bedouin high school students in the seven government-planned towns who completed their bagrout examination (matriculation) is only 26.6%, well below the average in Jewish towns in the Naqab, which is 42.2%.
The plan suggests the addition of 1,250 classrooms for the Arab Bedouin community over five years, and an additional 1,750 classrooms over ten years. Currently, schools attended by Arab Bedouin children in the Naqab suffer from severe overcrowding as compared to Jewish schools, and the number of students per school is substantially above the Ministry of Education’s official standards. There is also an enormous lack of schools in the unrecognized villages, which adds to the percentage of children dropping-out of school, particularly Arab Bedouin girls. Most of the elementary schools in the unrecognized villages are temporary structures like caravans, and lack appropriate infrastructure, including electricity, water, and access roads. According to a position paper issued in 2005 by the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab, there is deficit of 900 classrooms in the unrecognized villages alone.
The number of classrooms to be built according to the plan is thus insufficient; although the plan allocates 29-33% of the educational budget to the Arab Bedouin community, because of the current gaps between the Arab Bedouin and Jewish communities, it does not fulfill the current and future needs of the Arab education system in the Naqab.