Industrial Disaster Draws Attention to Bedouin Villages

One of the issues that gets far too little attention within Israel is that of the so-called “unrecognized villages.” These are basically shantytowns where Bedouins who are Israeli citizens live, but because they are not officially recognized municipalities, they get no services, even basic ones in many cases, like water and electricity. The people in these villages represent the lowest stratum of Israeli citizens.

In recent years in the United States, more attention has been paid to the placement of plants and factories which are especially harmful to the environment around them, and which are hazardous to people living near them, near minority and poor neighborhoods. The same thing is at work here in Israel.

The incident, an explosion at the Makhteshim factory in Ramat Hovav near Be’ersheva, has drawn some attention to the serious environmental hazards accompanying Israeli industry. It’s also drawn attention to the plight of the Bedouins in the Negev, at least those in the Wadi Na’am area near Ramat Hovav.

The effect of the explosion on Monday is still not fully known, but although evacuations both of workers and of nearby residents, including the Bedouin, came about fairly quickly, the problem is not incidental. As these reports here, here, and here indicate, pollution of the area was a pretty serious problem even before. The “solution that was arrived at was to establish an army base in Ramat Hovav, not exactly an effective solution.

Unfortunately, as this article alludes to, environmental regulation is weak, despite the presence of a significant environmentalist movement and trend in Israeli society.

The Bedouin nearby have been demanding to be relocated for quite some time. Now, their pleas may get more of a hearing. It is not a matter of simply picking up and moving, as both economics and the difficulty for Arabs of relocation within Israel, particularly these days and due both to prejudice and to government regulations, means they need government action to relocate.