Bedouin living in northern Negev wadi
Bedouin living in northern Negev wadiIsrael news photo: Hana Levi Julian

Groups opposed to Jewish “settlements'” aren't just concerned with Jews moving to Judea and Samaria. A Be'ersheva court on Sunday declared a “settlement” in the Negev illegal. The community of Sheizaf, located in the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, is built on land zoned for an educational institution. The decision was made after the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) petitioned the court, demanding the community's removal.

The Negev has long been known for its beauty, quiet solitude and vast space, making it a perfect backdrop for artists, poets and thinkers who find the silence and vistas a perfect environment in which to create. The dry climate and clean air has long been an attraction for those with respiratory issues, particularly around the area of the Dead Sea, which also is known for its healing properties for people with skin diseases.

However, there is a marked lack of Jewish settlement in the area, with the result that Arabs – especially Bedouin – have taken over large parcels of land. The Negev comprises some 60 percent of the land mass of Israel, but there are few Jewish communities and bus routes are still relatively sparse. There are no real train lines through the area, with the exception of one branch line to Dimona that reaches to the main transportation hub in the central major city of Be’ersheva – considered the “capital” of the south.  The other major city is the tourist capital of the south, Eilat, at the tip of the country, along the Red Sea coast.

A recent report by the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor said that numerous leftist organizations have been assisting Bedouin groups in “taking over” the Negev, with activities such as hampering the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in its Negev forestation project, a project which could have prevented illegal Bedouin takeover of national land.

In its decision, the court said that it realized that “the issue of settlement in the Negev is extremely important, but the methods by which that settlement takes place are just as important. Israel is a state that relies on its legal system, and settlement in the Negev must take place in a legal manner as well.”

Sheizaf was established in 2011 by the Ayalim organization, with the cooperation of the Israel Lands Administration and the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, and with the intention of establishing a mixed religious/secular Jewish community that would eventually turn into a town, strengthening the Jewish presence in an important part of the country. The SPNI opposed the settlement from the beginning because of fears it would upset the ecological balance of the area. In a statement, the SPNI said that it was in favor of bringing more Jews to the Negev, but that “the proper way to do this is to expand existing settlements, not create new ones.”