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Four Negev Bedouin towns hold first local polls
SEGEV SHALOM, Israel (Reuters) -- Bedouin living in four recognized villages in Israel took a step towards having more say in their affairs on Tuesday when they elected their own representatives to local government for the first time.
While thousands of Israel's Bedouin still live in so-called "unrecognized villages" which have no municipal rights, the recognized Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert, where most of the country's Bedouin live, elected Bedouin for mayor and a local council.
The election replaced the old system whereby Israel's Interior Ministry appointed representatives.
The elections in Segev Shalom, Ksaife, Ararah and Lakia mean all seven of the recognized Negev Bedouin towns now elect their own local governments from among Bedouin candidates.
"Before this they were appointed, sometimes by someone who had no connection to the Bedouin," said Atara Marcus, the ministry's election manager. "Now they elect their own."
Ahmed Jalabia, a resident of this Bedouin village, sat in the primary school where the votes were cast with orange and white ballots. He said candidates went from door to door with their campaign promises and voters were educated on what to do.
Jalabia said they were told to keep their selections private, and those who could not read were made familiar with the ballots.
"It is time for the Bedouin to wake up and get their rights," he said. "It wasn't good for others to represent them."
The Israeli statistics office said there are between 140,000 to 150,000 Bedouin living in the Jewish state, with the populations of the four villages which voted about 25,000.
The unrecognized villages are little more than shanty towns of tents, corrugated metal and crude wood shacks with no electricity or running water.
Groups working to improve the living conditions of the unrecognized Bedouin settlements say the government intentionally neglects them to force them into the seven towns, which they say are divisive in the tribal-based communities.
Israeli Arab officials number the "unrecognized villages" at 42, although other Israeli authorities say there are some 640.
Talab al-Sana, the only Negev Bedouin member of Israel's parliament, said the election might help those in unrecognized villages, such as some who receive services from Segev Shalom.
"A (Bedouin) mayor can support their struggle," Sana said.
Tribes that once relied on agriculture and shepherding have in recent years found themselves working in small industry or factories.
Campaign fliers were plastered on lampposts and on the sides of houses in this village of about 4,000. Green or orange flags, depending on party affiliation, fluttered from car antennae.
Men sat in circles in tents on sand lots near the school where the election was held as voters stood quietly in queues outside classrooms waiting their turn to cast ballots.
Subrine Farawny, wearing a Muslim headscarf, said after she voted that she hoped a Bedouin mayor would bring better schools, roads, and buildings. "The situation was terrible. The Jewish head didn't care," the 25-year old student said.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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