I realize I’ve been here almost seven months now, and I haven’t really written about the Unrecognized Villages yet.
There are 45 villages in the Negev that the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages considers unrecognized by the state. There are dozens of small encampments that do not show up on the map and are not counted among the 45, because their population is fewer than 500, the minimum population for recognition under Israeli law.
These villages are home to between 500 and 7000 residents each, for a combined population of 76,000 people, all citizens of Israel. They receive no basic services from the state, such as water, electricity, roads, garbage collection, sewage removal, or any other infrastructure that one would expect from an industrialized state such as Israel. Electricity is provided by generators that run usually 3 hours a day, and costs more per month than the 24-hour electricity residents of recognized towns and cities receive. As a result, those who are in need of 24-hour electricity for medical reasons (many medications, including insulin, need 24-hour refrigeration) cannot meet those needs, and suffer needlessly. Read about one such ongoing case here: Baby Girl’s Power Struggle With Israel.
The national electric grid runs through the villages in the form of high tension wires, in fact there is even a major electric plant smack in the center of one of the largest villages, but the residents do not have access to any of it. In the Negev, a desert home to intense temperatures in both summer and winter, the lack of electricity is exremely harmful, and every year people die due to lack of heating during the bitter cold of winter nights, and intense summer heat.
The residents of the Unrecognized Villages have little or no access to the national water grid, despite living alongside the main pipes used to transport drinking and irrigation water through the Negev. In cases where the government has granted access to the grid, the access is through a one-inch diameter access point, which is equipped with a turn-off valve to prevent too much water from going through the pipe at any one time. From there, above-ground hoses connect the houses in the village. However, if one does not live close to the access point, there is still no water connection, as the water pressure is not great enough to carry the water to houses outside the limited radius of water pressure allowed by the pressure valve.
If, however, one does not live in a village with this connection, or one lives far away from the pump, large water tanks must be used to transport water to the house. In cases such as this, the residents must go to a house close to a water access point, and another resident must fill these tanks up once or twice a week. This process takes two hours to fill the tank. So, if one arrives on the designated filling day to find 2 or 3 other people in line ahead of him, simply procuring water for the week can take all day. In addition, these tanks are often rusted out and extremely unhygienic, further exacerbating the already-dire health situation in the villages.
The residents of these villages have no official address, which precludes them from municipal elections of any kind. Some of these villages have been in the same location since the Ottoman times, others were created in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel. Following Israel’s victory in 1948, the Bedouin settlements in the western Negev were destroyed, their residents expelled to a triangular region known as the Siyaj (’fence’ in Arabic), with the cities of Beer Sheva, Yeruham, and Arad forming the points of this triangle.
The Regional Council of Unrecognized Bedouin Villages was created in 1997 by more than fifty leaders from across the Negev, tired of being denied access to the political process. Among the prominent leaders of this group were the following nine individuals:
- Hussein al-Rafay’a from Bir Hammam, current president of the RCUV,
- Lubad abu Afash from Wadi al-Na’am,
- Salman al-Asam from Khirbat al-Watan,
- Hussein al-Atrash from al-Mkaimin,
- Saaed al-Uqby from al-Qrein,
- Ali al-Kashakhr from Tel Arad,
- Ibrahim al-Waqily from Bir al-Mashash,
- Attiyah al-Asam from Abu Tlul,
- Jabr abu Kaf from Um Batin.
However, these nine would not have succeeded had it not been for the support of dozens of others, among them Dr Amir al-Wuzail, Khalil al-Ammur and others. Attiyah al-A’sam was the first head of the council. He is currently the point man for the Forty Committee in the Negev. Jabr Abu Kaf was the second head elected for the council. Hussein Al–Rafay’a is the current head of the regional council.
They started by forming 45 committees, one in each of the unrecognized villages, which were then assembled into a council, the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages. The work of the RCUV expanded, as did our reputation on both sides of the political fence, until the RCUV became recognized as a legitimate political action body, and one that was created by the new generation to meet the needs of a changed world.