Children in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A recently installed guardrail on an Israeli highway has isolated a Bedouin community in southern Israel for days, preventing 100 Bedouin children from attending school, NGO Adalah reported on Sunday.
According to the group
, which focuses on the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Israeli authorities effectively sealed off Umm Bidoun, a Bedouin community in the Negev desert unrecognized by Israel, by blocking off the only dirt road connecting the village to Highway 31 with a guardrail.
The road surface markings on the highway near other passage out of Umm Bidoun have also recently been changed, making it illegal for vehicles to cross the road, Adalah added.
The recent changes have effectively prevented any vehicles, including school buses, from accessing the village, Adalah said.
As a result, the legal NGO stated that, due to the absence of schools in Umm Bidoun, 100 children who study in the village of al-Furaa 15 kilometers away have been unable to go to school for days.
Adalah said on Sunday it had contacted officials from the Israeli Education Ministry, the al-Qasoum regional council, and Netivei Israel, the national roads authority, to demand that the obstacles to freedom of movement for the residents of Umm Bidoun be lifted.
Adalah field researcher Marwan Abu Freih told Ma’an on Monday that Netivei had told the organization that it was examining the issue.
Spokespersons from the Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case on Monday.
“It is inconceivable that some 100 students can — in such a sudden and arbitrary manner — be prevented from attending school without any advance notice to or consultation with parents,” Abu Freih said on Sunday. “Adalah and the families demand that the Education Ministry act immediately to correct this situation.”
Abu Freih added on Monday that members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, had reached out to Adalah to offer their assistance in resolving the case.
Bedouin villages were established in the Negev soon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following the creation of the state of Israel. Many of the Bedouins were forcibly transferred to the village sites during the 17-year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel’s military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.
Between 160,000 and 170,000 Bedouins are believed to reside in the Negev today, more than half of whom reside in unrecognized villages, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
The classification of their villages as “unrecognized” prevents Bedouins from developing or expanding their communities, while Israeli authorities have also refused to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages to the national water and electricity grids, and have excluded the communities from access to health and educational services.
Meanwhile, Jewish-Israeli communities in the Negev continuously expand, with five new Jewish plans approved last year. According to an investigation undertaken by Israeli rights groups ACRI and Bimkom, two of the approved communities are located in areas where unrecognized Bedouin villages already exist.
Rights groups have claimed that Israeli policies in Bedouin communities are specifically aimed at depopulating the Negev of its Bedouin residents to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli communities.