The primary statement espoused at a Sunday evening conference in Tel Aviv, focusing on the problem of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev, was that "Bedouins are not on the map."
The conference, which included some 200 participants, told of life in Bedouin villages unrecognized by the government, of government behavior towards the Bedouin population and of plans to move Bedouins to permanent residences in the Negev.
The conference, entitled 'Not on the map: Plans for developing the Negev and the Arab population in the Negev', was organized by several different organizations, both Jewish and Arab.
Conference participants were equally varied: young and old, residents from the Negev to Tel Aviv, Jews and Bedouin. The conference itself included speeches and testimonials of life in Bedouin villages.
One of the most touching stories in the conference was that of Raad al-Qian, from the village of Umm al-Hiran.
Raad, who studies geography at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, was doing reserves duty in the IDF when family members told him that bulldozers, protected by soldiers and policemen, were about to demolish his house.
Wearing an IDF uniform, Raad protected homes in Gush Katif as his own was razed to the ground.
Aqil Talalka (Photo: Dana Kopel)
Aqil Talalka, a father of 13, from the village of Tawil abu-Garwel just north of Beer Sheva told Ynet: "We have no water or electricity. We bring water in cars."
According to Talalka, his house has been destroyed three times. "Imagine what your children feel growing up. Will they feel love or hatred towards the State?"
He answers his rhetorical question: "They have unbounded hatred. How will a child be loyal to a state when his home is destroyed?" In his opinion, when they grow up, they'll be out for revenge against the state.
Nonetheless, Talalka hopes for a better future. "History shows that there were good relations between Jews and Bedouins under Muslim rule." He believes that good intentions on both sides can lead to future cooperation.
Debate on government programsOne of the conference's speakers was city planner Nili Baruch. Baruch addressed the 4/14 program, which requires Bedouins to move to one of ten permanent communities.
"This is a program that refrains from providing concrete solutions to the population's problems. The program allocated a location for the permanent communities, but of very limited area."
In contrast, architect Avinam Levin said it was a very good program. In his opinion, "the program gives new hope to the Bedouin because it involves negotiation regarding an exact placement for each village."
Many conference participants claim that the government treats Bedouins in the Negev like an existential geographic threat, and this is why it's doing everything to reduce their access to land.
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) said that Bedouin population constitutes merely 5 percent of the Negev population, and thus, the government must change its approach.
According to Swaid, "out of a total of 14 million dunam, the Bedouins want only 650 thousand." In his opinion, a different government approach would create conditions for growth and development and promise a better future for Jews and Bedouins both.
Head of the regional council for villages unrecognized by the government Hussein al-Rafia summarized the main sentiments of the event: "We're waiting for the government to come sit with us."
"If it considers us, we'll deal with these issues together." If the government shows willingness, "we can solve the problem of unrecognized villages within six months," he concluded.