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Israel: No polling stations for Negev Bedouins in November elections

Jerusalem24 – The Chairman of the Israeli Central Election Commission, Supreme Court Judge Yitzhak Amit, has rejected a petition for polling stations to be placed in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) ahead of the upcoming Israeli general elections in November.

The ruling, which was made public yesterday, cites a lack of “accurate data” concerning Bedouin residential addresses in the Israeli Population Registry as the reason for the refusal.

This is not the first time the issue arises, as Israelis head to the poll for the fifth time in four years.

Right to vote hampered by a technicality

There are around 200,000 Bedouin living in the Naqab. Around half live in seven townships built by the Israeli government, while the other half live in over 40 villages, the large majority of which are unrecognized by Israel – even those existing prior to 1948.

According to a 2006 report by Adva Center, the government-built townships lack appropriate infrastructure, are unable to provide work for their residents or social services at a reasonable level, and “do not constitute a viable alternative for residents of unrecognized villages.”

There is a long-standing Israeli policy to attempt to relocate the Bedouin population into these townships and off their original villages and lands, which NGOs including Adalah say is the main reason for refusing to recognize the remaining Bedouin villages, in order to “clear a path for Jewish settlement and development.”

While the Bedouins of the Naqab have Israeli citizenship (and thus have the right to vote in the general elections), those who live in unrecognized villages have no official address recognized by the government. Instead of an address, the residence of Bedouins living in unrecognized villages is indicated by the tribe to which they belong.

“Subject to the provisions of the law”

According to the ruling, it is this lack of official residential addresses that prevents the establishment of the polling stations. Judge Amit explains that “no official body in the State of Israel has accurate official data on the exact place of residence of the aforementioned residents, within the boundaries of the tribal area.”

Furthermore, according to Israeli law, the Central Election Commission “must rely only on Population Registry.”

“The Central Election Commission works all the time to allow access to voting for all those with the right to vote,” says Judge Amit. “However, the Central Election Commission is of course subject to the provisions of the law, and is obligated to act only in accordance with the provisions of the law.”

The judge suggests the Beer Sheva Regional Committee discuss arranging transportation for voters from their place of residence to the existing polling centers.

Political participation in freefall 

Electoral turnout amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel has been in freefall for the past two decades.

While it stood at 75% in 1999 (when it was nearly equal to the Jewish Israeli population’s turnout of 77%), it dropped to just 45% in 2021 (compared to 67% of Jewish Israelis).

Polls predict an even lower turnout of 40% at the November elections, which Israeli media attributes to disappointment with Mansour Abbas and the United Arab List.

The Ra’am party, headed by Mansour Abbas, had campaigned on promises of improving conditions for Naqab Bedouins. While the Bennett-Lapid coalition, which included the United Arab List, did oversee the official recognition of three previously unrecognized Bedouin villages, Abbas is widely seen as having fallen short of expectations, and Palestinian members of the Knesset called for the boycott of the November elections as soon as Bennett announced the end of his government in June.

Current polls predict the Netanyahu-led bloc will secure 59 seats in the election (two seats short of a majority) and the Lapid bloc 55 seats, with the remaining six seats going to the Joint List.

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