As the Israeli campaign trail moves full speed ahead to the upcoming April 9th elections, rights groups are demanding authorities provide thousands of Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel with adequate access to polling stations.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel released a statement Monday saying the group is appealing to the Israeli Central Elections Committee Chairman and Interior Minister, demanding that polling stations be placed in 11 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev desert.
The 11 villages, which are home to some 40,000 Palestinian Bedouins who have Israeli citizenship, currently have no polling stations or public transportation to reach existing stations.
“Some of their thousands of residents will have to travel up to 50 kilometers to vote in the upcoming national elections on 9 April 2019,” Adalah said.
The group added that many of the villages’ residents would have to travel on foot, given that the communities lack public transportation and many residents do not own private vehicles.
“The absence of polling stations in the Bedouin villages is one of the main reasons for the low voter turnout among this population,” Adalah said, adding that “harming citizens’ access to polling stations constitutes a grave and disproportionate violation of the constitutional right to vote enshrined in Israel’s Basic Law: The Knesset (Article 4).”
According to Adalah, the group filed a similar appeal before the last national elections, but were rejected on the basis that the public transportation lines situated along main highways were “sufficient.”
The group, however, has maintained that low voter turnout from the previous elections “indicate that this failed to remedy the situation.”
Further commenting on the situation, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher criticized the government’s lack of accommodations for its Palestinian Bedouin citizens as “another indication of Israel’s efforts to pressure Bedouin citizens to leave their homes and villages.”
“The Central Elections Committee must allow all citizens to vote without having to embark on unreasonable journeys in order to do so,” Zaher said.
More than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in villages “unrecognized” by the state of Israel, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
Due to the fact that many Bedouins generally lack titles to the lands their ancestors historically grazed and lived on, it is difficult for them to prove their right to live and work on the lands, which were declared property of the state of Israel in 1948.
As a result, Bedouin communities in the Negev are constantly at risk of forcible displacement at the hands of Israeli authorities.
Last month, Israeli authorities announced a plan to forcibly transfer 36,000 Palestinian Bedouins living in unrecognized villages in the Negev region in order to expand military training areas and implement so-called “economic development” projects.
Rights groups have claimed that such actions in Bedouin communities are an Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the region to make room for the expansion of Jewish-Israeli communities.