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Rights groups reject Israeli plan for train line on Bedouin lands in Negev

Aug. 22, 2017 4:24 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 22, 2017 7:31 P.M.)
A Palestinian Bedouin woman stands next to her destroyed tent in the village of Atouf in the Jordan Valley (Saif Dahlah/Getty Images/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Two human rights organizations released a joint statement on Monday rejecting Israeli plans to construct a passenger train line between the Negev and the Israeli city of Arad in southern Israel, saying the plans would "destroy the lives" of some 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins residing in villages near the proposed train line.

Israeli NGO Bimkom and Palestinian-run rights group Adalah filed an objection to the proposed Beer Sheva-Arad train line on Aug.10 on behalf of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab (Negev) and other Bedouin villages, the groups said in the statement, demanding that the Southern District Planning and Building Committee explore other alternatives to the planned route of the train line.

The groups reported that the train route would “gravely violate the rights of Bedouin citizens in the area,” including causing mass land appropriation, home demolitions, and state-enforced evictions of Bedouin along the train’s route.

According to the statement, the current plan would seize 4,700 dunams (1,160 acres) of lands in the Negev for the construction of the tracks, stations, access roads, and other planned infrastructure.

The drafters of the plan had ignored the potential impact the train line’s construction would have on tens of thousands of Bedouin residing in the villages of al-Furaa, al-Kseifeh, and unrecognized villages in the area, including al-Buhireh, al-Mazraa, al-Katmaat, and al-Azeh, the groups said.

The proposed rail line would "destroy the lives of hundreds of families, their homes, their economic investments, and harm their societal and tribal lifestyles,” the statement said.

Bimkom and Adalah’s objection to the proposed train line included a suggested alternative plan that would divert the route to the north of Highway 31, where the land is “entirely empty of buildings, and the shift would greatly reduce the damage to the existing infrastructure and human fabric."

Unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev face routine Israeli demolitions and attempts to forcibly expel the populations from the area and transfer them to government townships in order to make room for planned Jewish neighborhoods.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages, which Israel has refused to provide with basic services, such as running water, health care, electricity, and education.

However, Bedouin villages that are officially recognized by the Israeli state continue to face Israeli demolitions owing to Israel's discriminatory zoning and planning regime, and the overlap of some Bedouin villages on lands designated for planned Jewish towns.

Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya released a scathing report on the treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev back in 2011 -- shortly before the Israeli cabinet approved plans to relocate some 30,000 Bedouins from 13 unrecognized villages to government-approved townships.

He stated that Bedouins in the permanent townships "rank on the bottom of all social and economic indicators and suffer from the highest unemployment rates and income levels in Israel."

According to rights groups, Bedouin communities have continued to face these same discriminatory policies some six years later.
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