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Rights group demands Israel allow Bedouin village to register to vote in Negev

May 9, 2017 8:21 P.M. (Updated: May 10, 2017 10:37 A.M.)
Bedouin woman sits in front of the ruins of her family house in the Bedouin village of al-Arakib in the Negev Desert, north of Beersheva on August 4, 2010. (AFP Photo/David Buimovitch)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) sent a letter to Israeli ministers demanding that a Bedouin village in the Negev of southern Israel be allowed to register to vote in their regional council, the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

Adalah said that they had sent the letter to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Al-Qassoum Regional Council Elections Director Mickey Berkovitch in March on behalf of the residents of al-Furaa, who are hoping to be allowed to vote in future elections in the Al-Qassoum council.

According to Adalah, unlike the some 160,000 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev which face routine Israeli demolition campaigns, al-Furaa was recognized by the Israeli state in 2006. However, the residents have still been unable to register to vote in the regional elections, despite the fact that the residents pay taxes to the regional council.

The letter’s author Adalah Attorney Muna Haddad said that “this situation creates a serious infringement of the right to equality and discriminates against the residents of Al Furaa," according to Adalah's statement.

"The rights to vote and to be elected are basic rights at both the national and local levels. The courts have repeatedly ruled that the rights to vote and to be elected to local government are constitutional rights of the utmost importance," she added.

However, Adalah's statement said that regional elections have not occurred in Al-Qassoum since 2003 when the Abu Basma Regional Council was established, which "was then split into the two regional councils of Al Qassoum and Neve Midbar in 2012, partly in order to deny the right to vote to the population of the villages."

While Bedouin villages recognized by the Israeli government are guaranteed basic rights from the state, al-Furaa has continued to struggle without state assistance since the village’s official recognition.

As of December last year, basic services were still not available in the village, forcing the estimated 6,500 residents of the village to live without running water or a sewage system.

The residents have continued to live in the poverty and neglect that characterizes unrecognized Bedouin villages, which Israeli authorities have also refused to connect to the national water and electricity grids, while excluding the communities from access to health and educational services, and basic infrastructure.

Bedouin villages were established in the Negev soon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following the creation of the state of Israel. Many of the Bedouins were forcibly transferred to the village sites during the 17-year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel's military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.

Meanwhile, Israeli Jewish communities in the Negev continuously expand, with five new Jewish plans approved last year. According to an investigation undertaken by Israeli rights groups ACRI and Bimkom, two of the approved communities are located in areas where unrecognized Bedouin villages already exist.
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