Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Pandemic sees thousands of Naqab Bedouin forced into extreme poverty


By The Palestine Monitor - July 22, 2020
TAGS:
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Bedouin] [Naqab]

As Israel and Palestine grapple to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, vulnerable Bedouin villages, already on a knifes edge from years of government neglect, have been plunged further into severe impoverishment.


In a scathing report by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Rights in Israel, the NGO identified several key aspects of the Israeli government’s response to COVID-19 has heightening the risk of Palestinians exposure to the virus through “substandard protections” and policies. They identified the limited access to testing, emergency medical services, and social welfare benefits as having a particularly high impact on unrecognised Bedoing villages in the Naqab (Negev). 


The 30-page report, which was submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts on 16 July, described Israel’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as “discriminatory” and underscoring its negative impact on human rights for Palestinians both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.


Kheir Al-Bazz, a social worker and the chairman of AJEEC-NISPED, a Be’er Sheva-based NGO aimed at social change and Arab-Jewish partnership, told +972Magazine that unemployment in the Naqab is among the highest inside Israel and has been exacerbated by the crisis. 


“Even before the coronavirus, we had 30 per cent unemployment among men and 80 per cent among women. We still do not have accurate statistics, but in my estimation, those numbers have doubled,” Al-Bazz described. Some statistics place the current unemployment rate in unrecognised villages at a startling 85 per cent.


Located in Israel’s south, the Naqab is home to around 150,000 Bedouins in 37 unrecognised villages, where their status means living conditions at the best of times, hard. 


Already denied basic services such as water, electricity, sewage, health services and safe roads, these villages also live under the perpetual threat of demolition and eviction by the Israeli state due to the government’s decades-long refusal to grant them legal status.


Some residents of the villages have lost their jobs and have no income at all, said Al-Bazz, and as long as the villages are not recognised, their future will remain dire. Having no public services like transportation also means that residents have no way to travel for work if they do not have a car or other means of transport.


Their relative isolation from urban centres has helped to keep the pandemic at bay for the time being, but residents fear that the lack of infrastructure will cause a mass outbreak once the virus does arrive.


Many Bedouin are now relying heavily on donated food, without which, Al-Bazz said, many people would starve. “There were many donations and food baskets that people received through the Islamic movement and other organisations. As a non-profit, we established an emergency committee under which many organizations could collaborate on distributing donations and aid,” he said.


“We even got some funding from the [IDF] Home Front Command,” Al-Bazz continued. “The welfare office distributed shopping vouchers to needy families, and those whose work has been interrupted by the pandemic received social security payouts.”


Adalah has also reported the lack of electricity and internet access in the villages as having a disproportionate impact on Bedouin children’s ability to access online distance education as the rest of the country closed schools and switched to online learning in March. 


Around 50,000 Bedouin children in both unrecognised and recognised villages in the Naqab were unable to participate in online distance learning during the government-enforced lockdown, because they live in villages that the state has not connected to the electricity grid or the internet and most lack access to home computers.


“Our children haven’t been studying for the past six months because most houses don’t have internet, electricity, or computers,” Al-Bazz said. “We’re going to be paying the price for this for many years.”


Despite repeated requests from Adalah, the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education, and other groups, the Israeli Education Ministry has thus far failed to ensure that these students are able to continue their studies uninterrupted.

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