The Israeli Negev Bedouin community, estimated at nearly 200,000 people, accounts for 25% of population of the Negev Desert region. About half of the Bedouin population resides in seven existing towns that were established by the Israeli government and half live in communities spread throughout the desert. These informal settlements are unrecognized by the Israeli government and have few public services and little infrastructure.
For many years, relations between Bedouin communities and the Israeli government have been strained due to the disputes between government officials and Bedouin citizens over land use and ownership, housing and service delivery, and community development. For the state of Israel, fundamental questions of security and stability are at stake in the strategically and symbolically important southern Negev. At the forefront for the Bedouin population are questions of development, justice, and human rights.
Bedouin occupation of the land is periodically met with physical demolition and forced relocation by the Israeli government, which in turn is met by rebuilding by the Bedouins in even greater numbers. This stalemate has blocked productive uses of the land, obstructed both local and regional development, prevented socio-economic advancement among the Bedouins, and severely damaged relationships between the government and its Bedouin citizens.
These conflicts, unsatisfactorily addressed through legal recourse, have taken on increased national importance – with new State emphasis on development of the Negev region, growing concerns over the spread of political extremism, and increasing recognition of the dangers resulting from failure to address the ever-widening socioeconomic gap between Bedouins and the rest of Israel’s population.
For several years, CBI engaged in an effort – supported by both the Israeli government and the Bedouin leadership -- to explore whether mediation might provide a more effective way of resolving disputes over land and development in the Negev. In 2005, after many years of trust-building with all parties, CBI was invited by both sides to conduct a comprehensive Conflict Assessment – a systematic mapping of the situation, leading to recommendations for the design of an effective negotiation process mediated by neutrals.
To conduct this assessment, CBI assembled a multi-cultural team of Jewish and Arab-Israeli mediators and planning professionals, supported by American colleagues. The team conducted over 250 confidential interviews with Bedouin and government stakeholders, leading to a new understanding of the conflict. The assessment identified:
It also offered recommendations on how such a conversation might to be structured in order to achieve sustainable, lasting resolution.
The CBI team formally presented its assessment report to the Israeli government and Bedouin stakeholders in 2007. CBI hoped to launch a first-of-its-kind mediation in Israel, but the government was not prepared to proceed at the time. Instead, the government appointed a high level commission to examine the legal and historical roots of the controversy. The resulting Goldberg Commission’s 2010 Report endorsed the mediated approach that CBI had recommended.