In 2002, the “Right to Health in Unrecognized Villages in the Negev” project was launched by Physicians for Human Rights with the goal of instituting health-rights in unrecognized villages and supporting the Bedouin-Arab struggle for recognition by the State.
Forty-five villages in the Negev are unrecognized by the State, ten of which were recently recognized. Some 84,000 Bedouin-Arab Israeli citizens reside in them, comprising one-half of Bedouin-Arabs in the Negev. The population of unrecognized villages, including those recognized most recently, live in considerable poverty and hardship, and lack basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, sewage systems, roads, and education and health services.
The right to health is not only comprised of medical services, but of healthy living conditions as well. Such conditions, including potable water, electricity, suitable housing, sufficient food and a healthy environment, are lacking in such communities. Additionally, residents suffer from the State’s house-demolitions policies, executed on massive scales in their villages. Failure to provide services and infrastructure are part of a discriminatory policy based on ethnic-national identity, which aims to concentrate them into townships and deny them their land. Their right to health is thus fundamentally and perpetually denied.
The problem of unrecognized villages stems from the enactment of the 1965 Planning and Construction Law that excluded the villages from the national planning-project, making them illegal. The greater portion of these villages, however, had been established prior to 1948, while the remainder was created as a result of forced population transfer by army and police forces to restricted areas at the beginning of the 1950s.
The communities were and continue to be excluded from the national planning project, the State’s goal being their concentration within limited areas, and the imposition of a way-of-life dictated by the State. This is being done without regard for their existing lifestyles, customs, or traditional landownership system. Denial of medical services and health-rights and the deterioration of living-conditions are intentional and act to forward this ultimate goal.
Since the right to health is a basic human right, Physicians for Human Rights believes that all people are entitled to it, regardless of their condition, social status, or place of residence. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the State to protect and provide this right on behalf of the individual.
The Bedouin-Arabs that live in unrecognized villages in the Negev are unable to access their right to health since the State has yet to recognize their villages. Their denied right to health exists in conjunction with their denied inclusion within a larger, also discriminated-against group - Palestinian-Israelis. Thus, the discrimination against residents of unrecognized villages in the Negev is some of the most severe of that experienced by any Israeli citizen.
In accordance with the principals of Physicians for Human Rights, which seeks to establish projects in cooperation with oppressed communities and support their struggle for equal rights, Physicians for Human Rights is working on this project in cooperation with numerous other organizations active in the Negev, in particular, the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev—the community’s legitimate and elected representative.