The Ministry of Interior's Southern Regional Planning and Building Committee on Sunday approved a plan for a photovoltaic solar installation adjacent to the Israeli Bedouin community of Tarabin, in the Abu Basma Regional Council.
A joint project between the Tarabin tribe and the Arava Power Company, the 8 megawatt, 150 dunam (37 acres) solar installation is the first such building approval that has been granted in the Bedouin sector.
The solar installation will be built on privately-owned land zoned for agriculture adjacent to the Tarabin community and represents an investment of $30 million.
According to Yosef Abramowitz, president of the Arava Power Company, "The leaders of all the Bedouin communities in Israel support solar power development, but the Bedouin are disadvantaged compared to other entrepreneurs and landowners.
"If the government doesn't allocate a significant quota specifically for Bedouin solar fields, they will not be able to play a genuine role in the industry."
Last year, the Arava Power Company signed a contract with the Tarabin tribe to build a solar installation. The contract constitutes the company's first step toward generating solar electricity on lands owned by the Bedouin in the Negev Desert.
Community leader Haj Mousa Tarabin said, "I would like to thank all those who were involved with this project, with special thanks to the Southern Regional Planning and Building Committee.
" I am glad there are people who are concerned and are helping the Bedouin improve their lifestyle – on the economic level as well as with creating various sources of income.
"I would like to request that the Provisional License for Generating Electricity (from renewable sources) be granted in a timely manner by the Public Utilities Authority to enable commencement of the project."
Arava Power was the first solar company to partner with Bedouin families. In the course of the past year, five contracts have been signed with Bedouin communities to build solar projects on a total of 540 dunam (133 acres), with the first wave of projects constituting over 30 megawatts of solar energy.
Jon Cohen, CEO of Arava Power Company, said: "The Israeli government now has an opportunity to improve one of Israel's neglected populations. This community can become a vital and significant supplier of solar energy in Israel.
"This is both an economic and social investment that will advance the Bedouin population in the Negev. I am proud that the Arava Power Company has the opportunity to pioneer enterprises with the Bedouin that mutually promote social justice and economic benefit."
Initiatives in Israel’s solar industry have been promoted as a catalyst for the process of compromise regarding ownership claims being addressed by the Prawer Report.
The committee responsible for the report, tasked with Bedouin land issues and disagreements, and the implementation team in the Prime Minister's Office, today had their recommendations approved by the cabinet.
With the goal to achieve a just and effective response to the disagreement surrounding Bedouin lands, some of these recommendations include a compromise according to which the government and the Bedouin will come to an agreement on a certain percentage of “undecided” lands that will be transferred to Bedouin ownership, and in return the Bedouin will end their land claims.
These compensatory lands are potential starting points for Bedouin economic development. Initiatives in the solar industry can accelerate the compromise process in the land dispute and turn the compensatory lands offered to the Bedouin into sources of income and employment for the Bedouin community, while also generating substantial solar energy production.