Planned Arad Train Line Will Harm 50,000 Bedouin Residents in Negev

The Arad passenger train line that is being proposed for construction will cause significant harm to Arab-Bedouin communities in the Negev desert region in southern Israel. Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights – and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – filed a joint their objection to the plan in August. In their letter of objection, the two organizations called on the Southern District Planning and Building Committee to consider examining alternatives to the proposed passenger rail line, one that would cause no harm or at least much less harm to Bedouin citizens living along its route.

The current proposed plan for the electrified rail line would take 4,700 dunams (1,160 acres) of land for the construction of the tracks, right of ways, stations, access roads, and other related facilities. The objection was filed by Adalah Attorneys Suhad Bishara and Myssana Morany along with Dafna Saporta and Nili Baruch of Bimkom on behalf of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab (Negev) and a number of additional Bedouin communities in the area.

The proposed Arad line would gravely infringe upon the rights of Bedouin citizens in the area, Adalah and Bimkom wrote: “Despite the significant importance of establishing a rail line that will provide faster and more comfortable public transportation for all residents from their homes to cities and towns in the region, the proposed train line will cause widespread harm to Bedouin residents living along its route, including: blockage of village access roads; prevention of access to residential homes and agricultural land; imposition of construction and development restrictions along the route and in wide swaths of land in which Bedouin communities are located; prevention of the use of cultivated agricultural areas along the route; widespread land appropriation; home demolitions and evictions…”

In their objection, Bimkom and Adalah provided several examples demonstrating that the plan’s drafters ignored its potential impact on the some 50,000 Arab-Bedouin residents of Al-Fur’aa, Al-Kseifeh, and unrecognized villages in the area, including Al-Buhireh, Al-Mazraa, Al-Katmaat, and Al-Azeh. Construction of “the proposed train line will result in the demolition of dozens of buildings in the town [of Al-Fur’aa], and will impose restrictions on dozens of additional buildings that are situated along the proposed route. Additional buildings will also be affected by noise …; from the trains. These factors may result in a failure to take into account the village’s planning and development needs, therefore … impeding the government’s decision to recognize it.”

The proposed rail plan would “destroy the lives of hundreds of families, their homes, their economic investments, and harm their societal and tribal lifestyles. The law requires that every administrative authority must base its decisions on adequate and relevant factual infrastructure. There is, indeed, no point in making a decision – even a legal one – if it is not based upon the relevant facts and circumstances.”

The objection proposed an alternate plan for the Arad rail line that would cause much less harm to the area’s residents, suggesting that, “the route be diverted to the north of Highway 31, taking into consideration existing development plans and agricultural lands in the area. The primary advantage of shifting the route northward is that this land is entirely devoid of buildings, and the shift would greatly reduce the damage to the existing infrastructure and human fabric.”