The Negev
The NegevFlash 90

The government has given official approval to the construction of a new city in the Negev. The city, to be called Kasif, will be designed for – and marketed to – the hareidi-religious community.

Approval was also given to the construction of a second new community, a village, to be called Hiran, which will be home to a religious-Zionist population.

The new communities will form part of the government’s campaign to develop the region, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said. “This is in addition to the briefings on continued development, moving IDF bases to the south, building railroads and expressways, and turning Be'er Sheva into a global cyber center, which will expedite the development of the entire Negev, which Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, very much wanted to do,” he declared prior to Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

The left-wing Meretz and Hadash parties strongly protested the decision. The new town of Hiran will replace an existing illegally-built Bedouin community, they argued.

“It’s particularly egregious that a new Jewish town will be built in place of a Bedouin town, which will be destroyed… Instead of thinking of ways to develop the Negev for the good of all of its residents, the government is taking aggressive and problematic measures that will just turn the Negev into a giant conflict zone,” MK Dov Henin (Hadash) accused.

Mk Michal Rozin (Meretz) said, “It’s important to note that there are plenty of lands that could be built on in the Negev without infringing on the few rights that Bedouin currently have.”

“The unnecessary blow to a weak community won’t strengthen the Negev, and certainly won’t strengthen the state of Israel,” she continued.

“Yet again, this only serves one community – the residents of Eli, who are behind the organization that will settle Hiran,” she accused.

Rozin expressed upset over Netanyahu’s reference to David Ben-Gurion. “The Netanyahu government decides on this terrible injustice in the name of David Ben-Gurion… Ben-Gurion’s government recognized Bedouin rights to their lands,” she argued.

In June, the government voted to give 180,000 dunams of land registered to the state of Israel to Bedouin communities in the Negev. In addition, Bedouin towns were given 62.5% of the land that they had claimed but did not have proof of ownership for.

Some Bedouin communities which were built illegally on state land were required to relocate under the plan, and were given financial compensation.

The decision was aimed at solving the problem of illegal Bedouin communities in the Negev. It was controversial on the political right, where some accused the government of giving in to a Bedouin land grab, and among Arab and left-wing parties, which accused the government of the “forced transfer” of Bedouin.