Cabinet okays NIS 3b housing, jobs plan for Bedouin community
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Cabinet okays NIS 3b housing, jobs plan for Bedouin community

5-year project aims to boost integration into Israeli society, improve education, work training, public transportation

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The cabinet on Sunday approved a multi-billion-shekel five-year plan to improve the socioeconomic status of the country’s Bedouin community by bolstering housing, providing employment training and improving public transportation.

Between 2017 and 2022 the state is to spend NIS 3 billion ($800 million) on the project, advanced by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.

Under the terms of the proposal, 10 new industrial areas will be established in Bedouin areas, NIS 340 million ($90 million) will be invested in improving employment options, NIS 80 million ($21 million) will go toward job training and integration into the workforce, and NIS 250 ($66 million) to develop public transportation.

In addition, the government hopes to build some 25,000 housing units by 2022 for the Bedouin Israeli community.

Of the some 240,000 Bedouin living in southern Israel, only 64 percent of the men are employed and 25% of the women, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement. Among the entire Israeli population, the unemployment rate stood at 4.4%, according to the Bank of Israel. The low employment figures among the Bedouin have contributed to staggering poverty rates and stymied integration into Israeli society and the economy.

Ariel said the plan will also discourage illegal construction.

“The plan combines activities in the area of education and social issues and also activities against illegal construction, and the restoration of the lands to the state,” he said in the statement. “In this manner we will bring the Bedouin community closer to the State of Israel and the State of Israel closer to the Bedouin community.”

A Bedouin family sits in the ruins of their demolished home in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, southern Israel, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A Bedouin family sits in the ruins of their demolished home in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, southern Israel, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The plan comes a month after illegal construction in the Bedouin community made headlines over violent clashes during an operation to demolish buildings in the unrecognized community of Umm al-Hiran. A local resident was shot dead as the car he was driving rammed into police officers, killing one of them. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Israel Police claimed that Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, a teacher, had intentionally accelerated his SUV with its lights off into a group of police officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34. Eyewitness testimony and footage of the incident appeared to show police shooting at the vehicle before it accelerated.

Residents and activists supporting the Bedouin in their campaign to oppose the demolitions insist that Abu Al-Qia’an was shot by police before the ramming and did not have control of the vehicle when it hit the officers.

In the days after the Umm al-Hiran incident, there were widespread protests and demonstrations by members of Israel’s Arab community against the shooting of Abu al-Qia’an and against alleged discrimination that prevents members of the community from obtaining legal building approval, resulting in illegal construction.

Two weeks ago, the cabinet also approved a plan to reduce polygamy among Israel’s Bedouin community.

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