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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Negev group: Israel misinformed UN about woes of Bedouin

The United Nations requested in October an official Israeli response to a report claiming the state was inaccurate in describing the status of Bedouin living in the Negev.

The August 2009 report by the Negev Coexistence Forum, comprising residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages, says there are contradictions and inaccuracies in Israel's last annual statement on the implementation of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it submitted in July 2008.

This is the first time the UN has made such a request with regard to Israeli citizens.

"In the area of political and civil rights, Israel represents the standards of a Third World country," forum coordinator Noam Tirosh said.

"How does this jibe with Israel's claim that it is the only democracy in the Middle East? It is inconceivable that in 2010, tens of thousands of citizens are not connected to the electricity grid, do not have running water and do not have basic civil and political rights."

The forum, which also includes a number of human rights groups, said the state told the UN that most of the Negev Bedouin live in a number of recognized cities, while in fact, tens of thousands of Bedouin live in unrecognized villages.

This results in an infringement of their rights and inequality with Jewish Israelis, because the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages lack electricity, running water, sewage, roads, health services, education, garbage collection and other services, the forum said.

According to the forum, the government is trying to force the Bedouin to move to the cities.

The state's report says that construction master plans have been approved for all the Arab local councils in the Negev, while the forum says this is only partially true. It gave the example of Lakiya, where people have still not received building lots they purchased in 1976.

The state says it is compensating people who agree to move from unrecognized villages to the city, but the forum says the compensation is only NIS 100,000, not enough to build a house. The number of lots has also not kept up with population growth, the forum says.

From 2003-2007 a total of 2,801 lots were put up for sale but every year more than 2,000 Bedouin couples marry,

The forum says the state is using the lack of running water in the unrecognized villages to force residents to move to the towns.

But according to the forum even in the Bedouin towns there is running water only in the center of the community, necessitating the installation of expensive temporary pipes.

According to the state's report, medical clinics in the unrecognized villages have air conditioning and proper equipment.

However, the forum claims that many of the 12 clinics, which serve 83,000 people, are located in prefabricated structures that get their electricity from generators, and that medicines are not kept refrigerated when the clinic is closed.

The clinics are also located on the outskirts of the villages, making access on foot difficult for children and the elderly. In the nearby Jewish cities of Be'er Sheva, Yeruham and Dimona, according to the forum, there are clinics "for minorities only," that serve Bedouin from the unrecognized villages.

The state's report fails to mention what the forum calls inequities in the allocation of social services to the Bedouin towns, compared to national standards.

Shelters for the needy, day-care centers, senior centers and centers for treating family violence are all lacking in the Bedouin communities, according to the forum. The forum says there are almost no government offices or agencies in the Bedouin towns, such as the National Insurance Institute and the Employment Service. At the same time, poverty is rampant in the Bedouin communities, reaching nearly twice the national average in the unrecognized villages and somewhat less, but still above the national average, in the towns.

The forum claims the state ignored the question in the report about religion and culture, and did so because the state does not allow sites devoted to the Muslim religion and culture in Be'er Sheva.

There are also no places of prayer in the unrecognized villages, no cemeteries and no allocation of resources for religious needs, the forum said.

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