Forced displacement looms for thousands of Bedouins in Israel's Negev

Bedouin Negev Israel
5 min read
26 June, 2024

In May, more than 300 Palestinians in Wadi al-Khalil became homeless overnight when Israeli bulldozers flattened the entire Bedouin village in the Negev.

Now, under the scorching desert sun, tents they’ve erected next to the rubble of their homes are regularly demolished by Israeli police.

“The police came twice and took down our tents as well. They're not even letting us stay in tents,” Jaber Abu Asa, 62, a Wadi al-Khalil resident, told The New Arab. “The behaviour of the police is like gangsters.”

"Between 5,000-6,000 people in eight Bedouin villages in the Negev (including Wadi al-Khalil) are at risk of forcible displacement"

Police have also uprooted Wadi al-Khalil’s trees - eliminating any form of shade in the village.

The residents of Wadi al-Khalil, whose 250 homes, livestock sheds, a mosque, and other buildings lay crushed, weren’t given alternative housing options nor warning of the demolition.

“About a thousand police forces came through here,” Abu Asa said. “And demolished all the houses with our clothes and belongings inside, since we didn't have a notification beforehand.”

Again, without warning, in 2019 the Israeli police delivered a demolition order for Wadi al-Khalil, Abu Asa said. After four years of court battles, the Supreme Court ruled in September 2023 against the residents and in favour of their displacement to expand the nearby Highway 6 on the village’s ruins.

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“We’ve been here for over 45 years,” Abu Asa said. “I was born here. My kids were also born here. I lived most of my life here.”

Negotiations on where to relocate the Wadi al-Khalil residents have been deadlocked for months. The residents didn’t want to move to the nearby village of Umm al-Batin due to conflicts with families in that area and instead expressed a willingness to move to the neighbourhood of Al-Mitla in the city of Tel Sheva, which has yet to be constructed.

Despite the stalemate, the demolition went through even though Highway 6 won’t be widened in the next three years, the Regional Council of Unrecognised Villages in the Negev (RCUV) told TNA, because the government hasn’t budgeted for the project yet.

Bedouin Jessica Buxbaum
Jaber Abu Asa, 62, a Wadi al-Khalil resident, stands next to the ruins of his home following an Israeli demolition order. [Jessica Buxbaum/TNA]

Residents and activists say National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is to blame for the expedited demolition.

“Ben Gvir inflated the whole thing because we’ve been in dispute for a very long time, but nobody gave an order to demolish,” Abu Asa said. “And with Ben Gvir, of course, it was greenlighted quickly.”

Ben Gvir praised the demolition as “an important step for sovereignty and governance” in a statement released by his office on the day the village was dismantled.

“Indeed, as the minister promised upon taking office, there has been a significant increase in the demolition of illegal houses in the Negev, and the minister is proud to be leading this policy,” the statement read.

"We don't feel part of Israeli society. It feels like we are living in the occupied West Bank"

Not just Wadi Khalil

Wadi al-Khalil isn’t the only Bedouin community to lose their homes recently.

On Monday, Israeli forces demolished a family compound established 25 years ago in the Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj in the Negev.

Salim al-Danfiri, chair of the Bir Hadaj Committee, said the family accepted the authorities’ demands to resettle in a new location but the move never happened.

“This is new,” al-Danfiri said. “These are people who are willing to acquiesce to all that is demanded from them, but instead of reaching an agreement, they come to destroy.”

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In early June, 240 residents of Um-Mtanan were forced to destroy their houses, agricultural structures, and public buildings after pressure from the Israel Land Authority and police. They also were not offered housing alternatives and set up tents as temporary shelters. The police have told residents the tents must be dismantled as well as announcing the trees will also be uprooted.

On 3 June 2024, the Be’er Sheva District Court ordered the entire village of Ras Jrabah, consisting of over 500 people, to be demolished and residents evacuated by 31 December 2024 to expand the nearby Jewish city of Dimona.

“This government is worse in all aspects than any other government before,” Attorney Myssana Morany from Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who is representing Ras Jrabah, told TNA.

Palestinian Bedouin Negev
A record number of over 3,280 Bedouin structures were razed in 2023 by Israeli authorities. [Getty]

Morany explained that demolitions have intensified in the last six months compared to 2023, when a record number of over 3,280 Bedouin structures were razed. Adalah will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

In total, between 5,000-6,000 people in eight Bedouin villages in the Negev (including Wadi al-Khalil) are at risk of forcible displacement, according to the RCUV.

Israel doesn’t recognise 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev because the state outlined the area for agricultural purposes only under Israel’s 1965 Planning and Construction Law - meaning housing construction is illegal there.

"Israel doesn't recognise 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev because the state outlined the area for agricultural purposes only under Israel's 1965 Planning and Construction Law"

Without recognition, the villages aren’t zoned for planning and therefore can’t receive building permits and basic utilities like access to the electrical grid and road infrastructure. This is despite having Israeli citizenship, granted to them because they stayed on their land - instead of fleeing or being expelled - when the state of Israel was established in 1948.

While many Bedouin communities are going to court over the demolitions, the village of Karkur has given up on the legal process.

“We always lose in the courts,” Yihai, 51, a Karkur resident who did not want his surname used, told TNA. “Lots of money was put in to try to stop the demolition…and in the end the decision is to come and demolish.”

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Instead, Karkur residents now take apart their homes upon receiving a demolition notice. Like Lego blocks, they then put the pieces of their houses back together and the cycle repeats.

Despite having Israeli citizenship, the Bedouins in the Negev feel they don’t have any rights as their villages are levelled into heaps of twisted metal and crumbled cement blocks.

 “We don’t feel part of Israeli society. It feels like we are living in the occupied West Bank,” Abu Asa said. “There’s no way we can change or do anything…We’re just left behind without any choice.”

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.

Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum