The Bedouin in Israel
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 The Bedouin in Israel


Regularizing the unrecognized villages and the status of lands in the Negev will lead to the development and advancement of the Bedouin population.
Sheikh I'd Abu Rashed of the Bedouin village of Um Thnan in the Negev
Copyright: MFA free usage

For the most part, the Bedouin are no longer a nomadic society. For decades they have been undergoing a process of transition from a semi-nomadic society to a society that lives in permanent habitations.
Today, about 210,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, half in regulated, planned settlements.


  • Bedouin tribes wandered out of the Arabian Peninsula into the area encompassing Transjordan, the Negev and the Sinai deserts in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were joined by Egyptian fellaheen (farmers) and Africans who were brought as slaves.
  • For the most part, the Bedouin are no longer a nomadic society. For decades they have been undergoing a process of transition from a semi-nomadic society to a society that lives in permanent habitations.
  • Today the Bedouin represent a third of the Negev population: about 210,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, out of a total Negev population of 640,000. 
  • Approximately 120,000 of the Bedouin live in regulated, planned settlements: seven urban centers (the largest is Rahat, soon to become a town of 80,000 residents), and two regional councils with 11 small towns. The establishment of these settlements began in the 1960s.
  • Another 90,000 live in unrecognized villages and encampments. 
  • The Bedouin in the Negev inhabit almost 530 (140 thousand acres), the greater part of it located in the north of the Negev (mostly in the area between the cities of Rahat, Beer Sheva, Dimona, and Arad).
  • There are currently 2,900 land claims filed by 12,000 Bedouin (who comprise only about 15% of Bedouin adults). These claims concern 587 (approximately 148,000 acres) of the Negev.

4500 dunam Bedouin-Jewish industrial park being built near the Bedouin town of Rahat
The area near the Bedouin town of Rahat in which a 4500 dunam joint Bedouin-Jewish industrial park is being built, to employ thousands of local Bedouin
(Copyright: MFA free usage)

Defining the issue: Problems and consequences

Question of land status in the Negev

  • Private and communal lands claimed by Bedouin were not registered in land registries during the Ottoman and British periods, even when arrangements were made to encourage land registration.
  • Some Bedouin activists are claiming ownership of broad stretches of land in the Negev by virtue of traditional custom and their very presence in the area. These claims have no basis in the law.
  • Israeli law, based on the preceding Ottoman and British land laws, as well as on Israeli court rulings, defines the land in the Negev as State land (or “Mawat” in the language of Ottoman legislation). It does not recognize in principle private land ownership by right of traditional custom or of any claims other than lawful registration.

The unrecognized villages

  • The Bedouin’ unplanned and unregulated settlement in wide sections of the Negev has spawned about 2,000 scattered habitation clusters, including 35 unrecognized communities. Bedouin families live there with no address, no local government to supply services and practically no physical, economic or social infrastructures (except for – in some cases - water from Mekorot, the National Water Company of Israel). 
  • Some Bedouin live in dangerous areas. For example, 14,000-15,000 live inside the danger zone of the Ramat Hovav Toxic Waste Disposal Facility, which could pose a major health hazard to these residents.
  • Furthermore, this kind of unregulated settlement, in addition to lands that are claimed by some Bedouin who object firmly to any use of these lands, prevent the overall development of the area, affecting all of the communities and residents.
  • It is expected that regularizing the unrecognized villages and the status of lands in the Negev will lead to the development and advancement of the Bedouin population.

Illegal construction and difficulties in enforcing law and order

  • In Bedouin settlements, especially in the unregulated areas, there are more than 60,000 illegal buildings that were built on land not included in any master zoning plan or on land not designated for housing.
  • Israeli enforcement officers find it difficult to enforce the law due to the sheer amount of illegal construction and the strong, sometimes violent, opposition on the part of some Bedouin.
  • Poor socio-economic situation and inadequate infrastructures
  • The Negev Bedouin are at the bottom of the Israel's socio-economic ladder.
  •  The Israeli Cabinet has adopted a resolution defining this situation as intolerable and is set to change it, in order to afford Bedouin children a better future.

Consequences – If solutions to the Bedouin problem in the Negev are not found, this is liable to:

  • Impede the integration of the Bedouin in Israel’s multi-cultural society and economy.
  • Lead to a deterioration in the welfare of the growing Bedouin population. 
  • Interfere with the Negev development, which has the potential to greatly improve the Bedouin's present and future situation. 

The Bedouin in the Negev

Israeli policy

The State of Israel sees the development of the Negev as one of its most important missions, and views the integration of the Bedouin in its expected prosperity as a vital part of this development. The necessary conclusion is that the issue of the Bedouin in the Negev must be finally resolved. This will allow the Bedouin to enjoy the many resources that are expected to be channeled into the area.

Israel has been trying to cope with the Bedouin issue for several decades. Many plans have been proposed and committees formed over the years, but they all reached a dead end, due to a great extent to the Bedouin’s traditional suspicion of authorities as well as ideological objections on the part of Bedouin activists. For example, in the 1970s, in an attempt to resolve the land problem, the State initiated a legal-judicial proceeding that allowed the Bedouins to submit land claims (there are currently 2,900 such claims).

Even though most of the Bedouins have no documentation to substantiate their claims to private or communal land ownership, as required under Israeli Law, the State of Israel decided to go beyond its legal obligations and to make – ex gratia – a comprehensive, fair and feasible arrangement to resolve the ownership status of the land and to promote settlement in permanent, regularized communities. This is based on a compromise between the legal situation and the long-term residence of Bedouin land claimants on the land parcels that they claim.

The Goldberg Committee (which was headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg and included two Bedouins out of the eight committee members) was established in December 2007. It recommended that Israel recognize the Bedouin's "historic affinity to the land," although it found that a "legal right…does not exist."

The committee also recommended that a comprehensive plan be formulated that would resolve all aspects of the issue of the Negev Bedouin as well as strengthen the means of law enforcement.

Following the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee, an implementation team was set up, headed by Ehud Prawer, head of the Policy Planning Division at the Prime Minister’s Office. The team’s recommendations were approved by the government on 11 September 2011.

It was also decided to conduct a special active public hearing with the Bedouin and other relevant parties. A team headed by then-Minister Ze'ev Binyamin (Benny) Begin held dozens of meetings with hundreds of Bedouin, including private individuals, groups and organizations over a three-month period. Begin’s team submitted its report and recommendations to the government on 23 January 2013. On 6 May 2013, the government fully adopted the Begin report that outlined the recommended policy and also the new bill, as amended by the Begin team.

The policy adopted by the government following the Goldberg Committee's recommendations and the Prawer-Begin plan includes an integrated solution of all aspects of the Bedouin issue in the Negev, the main points of which are:

  • Socio-economic development of the Bedouin population in the Negev;
  • Full and final settlement of the status of the land, to be formalized through a law;
  • A plan to settle all of the Bedouins scattered in the Negev – not only those with land claims – in existing regularized communities; in existing non-regularized communities which will  be planned and recognized; or in new communities which will be built in consultation with the Bedouin and will provide for their housing needs until at least 2035.

It has been decided that this strategy will be carried out while engaging the Bedouin in an open and transparent dialogue and involving them in the planning on the ground.

Ahmed Al-Karnawi in his greenhouse in Rahat in the Negev
Ahmed Al-Karnawi in his greenhouse in Rahat in the Negev
As part of the Israeli government's efforts to reduce Bedouin unemployment, he and other Bedouin have received government plots to set up small agricultural businesses. Al-Karnawi cultivates  roses (which he exports abroad) and vegetables. (Copyright: MFA free usage)

Current actions and plans

What is already being done and what is planned to resolve the land issue and to improve the quality of life and standard of living among the Bedouin?

The draft law to regularize Bedouin settlement in the Negev passed its first reading in the Knesset on 24 June 2013. The purpose of the law is to put an end to land disputes by means of a compromise in which Bedouin with land claims will receive compensation in land and money for the whole of their claims, without having to resort to the court; to set a time limit to the process of formalizing the ownership status of the lands; and to base the entire process on the principles of fairness, transparency and dialogue, while strengthening the tools of law enforcement.

Israel has established organs to advance the regularization process and has allocated huge amounts of money to this purpose. Israel has apportioned approximately NIS 8 billion (almost 2.2 billion dollars) over five years (2012-2016), including 1.2 billion shekels (about USD 330 million) that is allocated for the economic and social development plan.

The plan encompasses employment, education, infrastructures and services intended to promote the development and economic growth of the Negev Bedouin.

Settlement arrangements for all of the Bedouin residents scattered throughout the Negev and not only for those claiming land:

  • Claimants of land who are found eligible will receive land compensation of 25% to 50% of the land they are holding and/or claiming, plus monetary compensation for the rest of the land claim.
  • Land allocated for those eligible will be registered in the Land Registry and will become their lawful property.
  • Free allocation of a developed residential lot to every family or eligible single person.
  • A variety of settlement options – rural, agricultural, communal, suburban, and urban – will be made available so that the people can choose the one that suits their lifestyle and desires. Dialogue is already taking place on this subject.
  • Efforts to minimize Bedouin relocation – Most of the Bedouin will not have to relocate. About 30,000 people will have to move to another location, mostly a short distance (from a few hundred meters to a few kilometers) towards the centers of their communities. For instance, Bedouin who live at present within the danger zone of the Ramat Hovav Toxic Waste Disposal Facility will relocate to an existing recognized community several kilometers from their present location.

    Many unrecognized villages in the Negev will be able to remain in their present location following zoning and planning, which can only be achieved after settling land ownership claims.

    Residents of small and scattered villages and habitations that do not meet the requirements for recognition, zoning and planning – such as size, density, municipal and economic carrying capacity – will relocate to developed residential lots in alternative locations.
  • Planning teams have already been set up to work on settlement plans together with the Bedouins themselves.

As part of the government’s policy and the Negev Bedouin development plan, dozens of initiatives are already being implemented on the ground to improve the Bedouin situation within the framework of a budgeted five-year plan for 2012-2016.

Examples include: establishing employment guidance centers; development of industrial areas jointly with Jewish regional councils; planning and development of tourism infrastructure in the Bedouin sector; encouragement of employers to employ Bedouin (in this context, the transfer of IDF bases to the Negev will necessitate the hiring of thousands of workers, with the intention that many of them will be Bedouin); municipal training to strengthen the organizational and professional capabilities of local Bedouin authorities; improvement of the transportation system in the Bedouin areas; expansion of technological education, adult education, centers of excellence for students and informal education for youth; a plan to reinforce the connection of the Bedouin to their culture and heritage; and the encouragement of Bedouin women to go out to work and to start businesses.

A classroom in for disabled Bedouin children in the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva
A classroom in the Regional Center for Education and Rehabilitation of Disabled Bedouin Children (suffering from C.P.) in the town of Tel Sheva in the Negev. The center, financed by Israeli governmental ministries, currently accommodates around 140 children with C.P., from pre-kindergarten to post high-school age, and will in the future accommodate 500 pupils. (Copyright: MFA free usage)

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