MK Talab Abu Arar said Wednesday that the Agriculture Ministry is purposely making life difficult for the Bedouin minority in the Negev region. According to him, scores of Bedouin families in the Negev are prevented from tending to their sheep in pastures because they have not registered to do so. In addition, he said, Bedouins do not receive water at agricultural prices. The lawmaker also complained about the closure of the animal market in Beersheba by the municipality`s veterinary department and claimed the ”political” decision was meant to benefit meat importers.

MK Abu Arar stated that in many cases Bedouins are fined for transporting sheep without a permit. These fines, he said, lead to the closure of businesses and put entire families on welfare.

”The Agriculture Ministry is smothering the Bedouins,” he declared, while accusing the government of ignoring the damage caused to Bedouin communities during the recent storm, the hardest to hit Israel in decades. Abu Arar mentioned that while many civilians complained of power outages during the storm, ”there are Bedouin communities that have not had electricity since the state`s inception.”

Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir said the Bedouins` problems were discussed two weeks ago by the Finance Committee. It was decided, he said, that taskforces set up by the Agriculture Ministry would address the problems. Minister Shamir said that a census of all the sheepherding families had in fact been taken and that some 1,300 families registered. Over the years, pasture areas have been allocated to those who had registered, he noted.

Minister Shamir further noted that there was no distinction between Jews and Bedouins with regards to the distribution of water and that animal markets had been opened in Rahat and Hura, but they were closed down because the local authorities could not meet the minimum standards.

MK Ahmad Tibi asked Minister Shamir if it was true that he had been tasked with implementing the controversial Prawer Plan for the regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev. The minister said he has been asked to deal with the issue but has not determined whether he can take it on and regulate Bedouin settlement in the South.