VII. Lack of Compensation or Adequate Alternatives

Since the 1970s, Israel has offered the Bedouin some form of minimal payment or other compensation for structures and land, but only if the family agrees to move to one of the government-planned townships and signs away any claims to its ancestral land and home. The Bedouin reject the compensation amounts as being insultingly low, especially when compared to the much more favorable amounts the state has paid to evacuated Sinai and Gaza settlers, or farmers whose land the state expropriated for building the Trans-Israel Highway (see below). The Bedouin do not receive any compensation at all, and their land claims are not recognized, if they reject the conditions attached, and the government subsequently demolishes their homes.

The Israel Land Administration portrays the compensation it offers as “generous.” On its website, the ILA boasts: “Bedouin families that leave the dispersion for permanent villages receive exceptionally high compensation from the state. Israel offers Bedouin families compensation to leave their buildings in the dispersion. The compensation is many times the value of the illegal structures they leave.”210

Yet in 2002, Dudu Cohen, the head of the Ministry of Interior for the Southern Region, noted a different reality: “The conversion ratios (in money and in land) offered the Bedouin,” he acknowledged, “are not reasonable/fair when the Bedouin does his feasibility calculation, i.e. – how much will the state pay him for the land he claims, and how much will he have to pay the state for the land/building plot in the existing/planned localities.”211

Villagers from Tarabin al-Sane’ described the problem of inadequate compensation. Some of the villagers signed an agreement with the ILA to leave their unrecognized village next to Omer and move to a newly established village for the Tarabin near Rahat. Talal, who still lives in Tarabin al-Sane’, said:

My brother moved to the new town because he has disabled children, and he needed a real home. He got 180,000 NIS compensation for the structure he left here and an 800-meter plot. But it turns out the compensation they paid him wasn’t enough to build a new house. He had to use all his savings, and it still wasn’t enough.212

Human Rights Watch visited the new Tarabin village, which looks like a ghost town with tens of half-built homes along deserted streets, in April 2006. Talal’s brother, Kamal, said:

I can’t finish the house and live in it due to lack of money. I even managed to save a lot of money because I’m a builder, so I laid my own tile and did the pipes and electricity myself. But still there are no light fixtures, no counters in the kitchen, no toilets or sink, no furniture. Thirty percent of the compensation I received was gone before I even started to build because we had to pay for the utility companies to open electricity, sewerage, and water infrastructure on our plots.213

When Human Rights Watch visited the new village the family was living in a tin shack they constructed behind their unfinished home. Kamal also complained that the government had violated their agreement with him. He said ILA officials promised him a plot of agricultural land that he never received. He also complained that the village offers no employment, health services, or public transport. To take his disabled son to his regular appointments at Soroka medical center in Beer Sheva, Kamal has to pay a taxi 125 NIS each direction. Kamal said: “The bottom line is that the rest of the Tarabin villagers should stay where they are [in the unrecognized village next to Omer] and not come to this place to suffer the humiliation, isolation, and defeat that we are suffering. At least in the old village we could get public transport to the doctor. At least there it was possible to find some work, but here there is nothing. One day there is worth a year here.”214

Comparison of Compensation Rates

The exact compensation offered Bedouin over the years has increased slightly, although the basic formula has remained the same: Bedouin with less than 400 dunams of land receive no alternative land but only monetary compensation, while those with more than 400 dunams receive 20 percent in alternative land and 80 percent in monetary compensation. In the unrecognized villages, the actual monetary compensation varies between 1,100 and 3,000 NIS per dunam, a fraction of the market value of the land.215

By way of comparison, the average Jewish family who owned a housing plot in a Gaza settlement received or will receive between 1.5 and 2 million NIS in compensation.216 Owners of agricultural land confiscated to build the Trans-Israel Highway received compensation in the form of the same amount of good quality farmland at nearby Kibbutz Bahan.217

Recognized Townships

Bedouin not only reject the low compensation rates the state offers, but also what they view as the unacceptable alternative living arrangements that exist in the government-planned townships. As mentioned earlier in the report, the townships are among the most deprived locations in Israel and do not offer the Bedouin any situation that is compatible with their traditional way of life.

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics periodically compiles a chart showing the socioeconomic ranking of all localities in Israel with 1 being the lowest and 198 being the highest. The following extract from the 2003 chart shows that the Bedouin townships constitute seven of the poorest eight localities in Israel. 218 For comparison, some of the Jewish locales in the Negev are also included below.  Two of them fall within the five wealthiest communities in Israel.

Kseifa                        1

Tel Sheva                   2

Rahat                        3

Arara                         4

Segev Shalom             5

Lagiya                        7

Hura                           8

Dimona                     95

Arad                        109

Beer Sheva               118

Meitar                     193

Lehavim                   195

Omer                      197

Researchers from Adva Center collated data from several existing studies on the problems of the townships and described the following major problems in their report:219

  • The budgets available to the local authorities in the seven government-planned Bedouin townships are the lowest in the entire country.
  • At the end of the 1990s, half of the houses in the townships were still not connected to a sewerage system.
  • There is no public transportation either within the townships or between the townships and other cities.

Ariel Dloomy from Dukium points out that there are no public libraries, sports centers, swimming pools, or real industrial areas in any of the townships. Some of the townships lack post offices or community centers.220 And according to researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the townships also suffer from poor roads, the absence of economic activity, and inadequate health, education, social, and recreational services.221 The researchers conclude:

The Bedouin are not party to the planning process in any meaningful sense. Moreover, often-repeated government commitments to rectify wrongs, to meet obligations, and to correct discrimination have almost never been honored. An urban Bedouin would be justified if he/she concluded that the failure of the urbanization process was by design, since it is hard to believe that so much could have gone wrong by accident or by sheer incompetence.222

Another major problem facing the government-planned townships, mentioned earlier, is the fact that the state confiscated land for the townships that is claimed by other Bedouin. In the areas of townships where Bedouin have registered ownership claims over the land, it has been difficult for planning and land authorities to develop housing plots, exacerbating a real shortage of housing options in the townships. Ahmed al-Asad, head of Lakiya Local Council, claims that of the township’s 9,000 residents, 3,000 live outside the official municipal borders, in unrecognized neighborhoods. Meanwhile, there are 4,000 empty plots inside Lakiya that cannot be allocated due to Bedouin ownership claims over them.223

Some government officials continue to argue that the Bedouin of the unrecognized villages can and should be housed inside these seven government-planned townships. According to the Ministry of Justice, “the existing towns can accommodate most of the needs of the Bedouin population. In all of these towns vacant lots await additional occupants.”224 In its July 23, 2007 letter to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Justice declared that there were plans to expand the existing townships and market new housing plots. The Ministry stated that “there are 3,000 empty land plots in the existing permanent towns which can be populated immediately by the Bedouins from the diaspora. In addition, there are another 4,400 plots which can be developed if demand will require it.”225

Yet other government officials who are more intimately involved with the problem of Bedouin housing acknowledge the complex reality of the situation. Dudu Cohen, the head of the Ministry of Interior for the Southern Region, told a Knesset committee, “In Kseife and Lakiya you can find thousands of developed plots that cannot be marketed because of ownership claims.”226 The minister of housing himself stated, “If there is an ownership claim over a plot, no Bedouin will agree to live there.”227

The problems are known, and yet planning authorities continue to issue demolition orders and demolish homes, while claiming that the Bedouin can simply relocate to one of the seven government-planned townships. Human Rights Watch interviewed several Bedouin who bought options for plots in the original seven government-planned townships decades ago and have yet to receive a plot. The case of the Abu ‘Bayid clan below is illustrative. There are hundreds of families in the township of Lakiya alone who have bought plots from the ILA but never received them.228

The Abu ‘Bayid clan is originally from Sharia (near today’s Netivot), but the military government forcibly transferred them to Lakiya, and later to Tel Arad, in the early 1950s. When the government announced the building of the recognized township of Lakiya in the 1970s, many members of the Abu ‘Bayid clan were eager to go, as some clan members had ancestral land in the area.

Sultan Abu ‘Bayid, 48, was a teenager in the 1970s when Lakiya was being planned. He told Human Rights Watch: “I dreamed about a real, modern house with electricity and running water. We had been moved from place to place. We felt like paper that the wind had picked up and blown wherever it wanted. We just wanted to settle down somewhere permanent.”229

When Sultan Abu ‘Bayid’s family first agreed to move to Lakiya, along with many other members of their clan, the authorities had not yet planned the town. Many members of his family purchased land options that were supposed to translate into actual plots when the town was completed. “The Israel Lands Authority made an offer that each nuclear family or household could buy a plot of one dunam of land and the authorities would do the zoning and planning for Lakiya, after which we could start building homes on our plots,” Sultan Abu ‘Bayid said, adding:

They told us that “you have an option to buy a plot now even though there is no Lakiya and no planning document approved for Lakiya. But don’t worry, you’ll get your plot later.” For us, we believed that if we bought the option we were securing our future. We thought it was in the interests of the government to concentrate us in these new townships, and therefore when the government said it was planning the town we thought it would happen immediately. We had no reason to think the government would renege, as the whole scheme was clearly in its interests.230

Sultan Abu ‘Bayid bought his option in 1979. Over the years, after many rounds of negotiations, he believed that he had reached an agreement with the ILA over a particular plot:

I wrote the number of this plot on my ID card—here you can see it—I am supposed to be in neighborhood 3, plot 281, Lakiya. I went to the Ministry of Interior and asked it to register this as my official address, and now it is in my ID card as you see. And yet today it is still an empty plot. From the beginning the real Bedouin owner of this piece of land agreed to let me take the plot there and to build on it. I am an active member of the community and have been active in the struggle to recognize the villages and improve the quality of life in Lakiya and the townships. I don’t have enemies in the community. In 1992 the Bedouin owner of this plot agreed to let me use the land and gave me a signed letter. When I got this letter from the owner in ‘92 and went with my wife to the ILA I even had to pay more money since the plot was a bit larger than the original one dunam option I had purchased. So I paid the additional money. But I still didn’t get the plot. Then two years ago the Bedouin owner said, “Let’s go together so you can finally get the plot.” While there are many other people who have a problem because the real Bedouin owner or claimant of the land won’t let them develop, that is not my problem—on the contrary he is willing to help solve the problem.231

Despite all of Sultan Abu ‘Bayid’s efforts, today he still lives in an unrecognized neighborhood in an unlicensed building, waiting for the ILA to hand over his plot. “It is almost 30 years later, and I still don’t have my plot.”232

Hundreds of families in Lakiya suffer the same problem as the Abu ‘Bayids. In 1999 the Association for Civil Rights in Israel submitted a petition on behalf of some of these families, this time from the Abu Rteewish clan. After seven years, ACRI and the Abu Rteewish clan received a high court judgment on December 17, 2006. 233 During the high court proceedings, the ILA promised to expand Lakiya and add additional residential plots, but the high court refused to put this promise into its final judgment (see below). In addition, according to Banna Shoughry-Badarne, the ACRI lawyer who represented the Abu Rteewishs clan in court, even if the ILA is sincere, this process could take at least several more years. She told Human Rights Watch:

The area where these plots will supposedly be allocated is currently outside the “blue line” or official town boundaries of Lakiya. First, Lakiya has to receive permission to expand, the blue line has to be changed and the new district master plan covering this area has to be approved, all before the families could receive these new plots from the ILA.234

Shoughry-Badarne also complained that the entire arrangement was based on a verbal promise by the ILA, which has continually reneged on its promises to the Abu ‘Bayid and other Lakiya clans. “They promised verbally that they would provide plots after the expansion of Lakiya is finalized. The court accepted the promise. We asked the court to officially record this by writing it into the court’s verdict, but it refused, claiming that the government will stand by its promise.”235

The court’s final verdict reads:

The appellants [Abu Rteewish family] requested that the agreements reached between them and the respondents [the state] will be restated in the verdict, but the judge sees no need for that since the respondents must act according to the statements made to the court, and he sees the case as closed.236

210 Israel Land Administration, “The Bedouin of the Negev,” (accessed May 21, 2007). The ILA does not use the term “unrecognized village” but rather prefers to refer to the Bedouin in the Negev as the Bedouin “dispersion.”

211 Swirski and Hasson, Invisible Citizens, p. 24.

212 Human Rights Watch interview with Talal [last name withheld], April 6, 2006.

213 Human Rights Watch interview with Kamal [last name withheld], Nahal Shamariya, April 11, 2006.

214 Ibid.

215 Swirski and Hasson, Invisible Citizens.

216 Meirav Arlosoroff, “Each Gaza evacuee family to get NIS 1.5-2 million in compensation,”  Haaretz, February 22, 2007 (accessed September 16, 2007).

217 Central Bureau of Statistics ranking of 204 local authorities in Israel in 1995 taken from Swirski and Hasson, Invisible Citizens .

218 Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. (accessed June 19, 2007).

219 Shlomo Swirski and Yael Hasson, Invisible Citizens Israel Government Policy Toward the Negev Bedouin (Tel Aviv: Adva Center, February 2006), (accessed May 23, 2007).

220 Email to Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2007.

221 Abu Asad and Lithwick, A Way Ahead, p.11.

222 Ibid.

223 Protocol of 01/16/2007 meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Master plans of Bedouin settlements in the Negev and home demolitions. [Hebrew] (accessed September 9, 2007).

224 Letter from the Department for International Agreements and International Litigation in the Ministry of justice, to unknown party, dated February 13, 2005 and published on the Ministry’s website.

225 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Ministry of Justice, July 23, 2007.

226 Protocol of 11/06/2006 meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Master plans of Bedouin settlements in the Negev and home demolitions. [Hebrew] (accessed May 23, 2007).

227 Protocol of 01/16/2007 meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Master plans of Bedouin settlements in the Negev and home demolitions, [Hebrew] (accessed September 9, 2007).

228 According to lawyer Banna Shoughry-Badarne at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, some of the other clans whose families are affected by this problem are the Abu Rteewish, abd al-Khaleq, Abu Bader and al-Talalqah, and families in the township of Hura face the same problem. Email from Banna Shoughry-Badarne to Human Rights Watch, June 18, 2007.

229 Human Rights Watch interview with Sultan Abu ‘Bayid, Beer Sheva, April 10, 2006.

230 Ibid.

231 Ibid.

232 Ibid.

233 High Court of Justice Case 6459/99, December 17, 2006 [Hebrew], on file with Human Rights Watch.

234 Human Rights Watch interview with Banna Shoughry-Badarne, Jerusalem, February 27, 2007.

235 Ibid.

236 High Court of Justice Case 6459/99.