Thousands of Negev Arab-Bedouin to Be Uprooted for a New Mine

More than ten thousand Arab-Bedouin citizens of Israel living on and near land slated to become a phosphate mine in the Negev are to be evicted from their homes, with most of them being crammed into a new town to be developed nearby, the senior government policymaker for Arab-Bedouin affairs has told The Jerusalem Post.

MK Dov Khenin during a demonstration in Jerusalem against the planned mine at Sde Barir

MK Dov Khenin during a demonstration in Jerusalem against the planned mine at Sde Barir (Photo: Say no to Sde Barir)

Yair Maayan, head of the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, said the relocation was not primarily motivated by the mine. However, his disclosure of the resettlement does come just two weeks after plans, including one for developing a phosphate mine at Sde Barir, near Arad, were approved by the inter-ministerial cabinet for planning, building, land, and housing (Cabinet HaDiyur). The approval of the plan came despite objections by the Health Ministry which expressed concern that mining activity at Sde Barir would pose a danger to the health of residents of nearby communities.

According to the plan, some 8,000 Arab-Bedouin are to be moved to a site not far from al-Foraa, a village that planners thought had been earmarked for recognition a decade ago. The new arrivals are to be settled in homes to be constructed on one tenth of the area they currently inhabit. In addition, another two to three thousand Bedouin will be relocated to the nearby town of Kuseifa and other locations where they have land and where housing lots will be developed for them.

Al-Foraa, which consists of clusters of drab grey one-story concrete homes with corrugated metal roofs extending over a large area, will be hardest hit by the massive mine plan. Also to be severely impacted by the relocations are the nearby unrecognized Bedouin communities of az-Zarura, al-Azeh and Qatamat, according to a position paper by the planning rights group Bimkom and Adalah, a legal advocacy group for the Arab minority. Most public discussion surrounding the mine has focused on its possible health implications for the Jewish city of Arad, situated three kilometers east of al-Foraa. Far less attention thus far has been given to the Bedouin who live closest to and actually on the land slated to become a mine.

A 2014 study by an independent American specialist, Jonathan Samet, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California who was commissioned by the Health Ministry, found that phosphate mining would increase the level of particularate matter in the nearby air and could cause higher rates of respiratory and heart diseases. The development of the mine is to be carried out by a subsidiary of the privatized Israel Chemicals concern, Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd. which is owned by Idan Ofer, an Israeli tycoon who lives in London. Ofer disputes the notion that the mine will pose a health hazard to the surrounding communities.

Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) has said that, in moving ahead with the plans to develop a new phosphate mine in the Negev, the government is acting on behalf of the powerful business interests of Israel Chemicals Ltd. magnate Idan Ofer, instead of looking after its citizens. “What’s the value of human life when there are profits at stake and money to be made?” said Khenin. “They don’t see that there are any villages and citizens. They make out as if it is an empty area. But, it is not an empty area. Human beings, and in particular Bedouin-Arab citizens, do not interest the government. Phosphates and the profits of Idan Ofer do.”

Tomorrow, Thursday February 8, Arad residents, Arab-Bedouin from the Negev and Hadash activists will hold a demonstration against the phosphate mine at the western entrance to the city of Arad at 16:00.