The Islamic Movement Builds the Negev

While the government holds interminable discussions about plans to settle the Bedouins, the Islamic movment is taking advantage of the vacuum in the field to advance an anti-Israel agenda

Exposé: As the government holds interminable discussions about plans to settle the Bedouin, there are those who take advantage of the vacuum in the field to advance an anti-Israel agenda. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, is stepping up its movement in the Negev with massive illegal building projects, among other activities.

There is a tendency to describe the phenomenon of the Islamic Movement’s 36 illegal building projects right before Passover in Zionist-type jargon, such as “Tower and Stockade” or “one dunam and then another.” But the real story is nothing like that of the founding of the kibbutzim in the 1930s. As Mida reported in the past, this is the eighth year in which the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, has conducted wide-scale building projects in most of the Bedouin settlements in the Negev. The goal: to solidify solidarity between the Arabs of the Galilee and the Triangle with their brothers in the desert.

In the framework of this year’s operation, the Movement’s activists built – in one day – a large set of illegal buildings and infrastructure projects over a vast geographic area. Among these, 11 homes were built, some of which had been built in the past and then dismantled by the authorities; 11 mosques built and renovated; four schools renovated; four cement bridges built; and roads to four settlements paved: at a total cost of two million shekels. All of these projects are illegal.


All According to Plan

When you look at the fine details, it is obvious that nothing happened by chance. The project’s perfect timing during the Shabbat before Passover, right before the Israel Lands Authority inspectors’ weeklong vacation, attests to a thorough understanding of the Israeli system. The choice in location also demonstrates a clear strategic plan. Of the myriad projects we researched from the Islamic Movement’s websites, it’s obvious that no plan was implemented in the “difficult” sectors of the region – those for which an arrangement is unlikely to be found. Most of the buildings were constructed in recognized towns and villages or in sites undergoing a permanent settlement process that will one day turn into legitimate settlements.

The types of buildings and projects were chosen with clear purposes: to deliver a message of stark defiance of the law by rebuilding homes that had previously been dismantled by the state, and to achieve an organizational advantage for the Movement by enlarging its system of mosques, ultimately showing the Bedouin of the Negev who holds the most power in the area and who is taking responsibility for the fate of its residents.


Nakba comes to the Negev

Understandings about the Movement’s goals are not unmerited. Messages in this vein were heard from event organizers and leaders of the Islamic Movement at the final assembly held at the illegal village of Wadi el-Na’am, near Ramat Hovav. The first to mention the term nakba was Sheikh Pelet Abu Latash, one of the village leaders:

Since the nakba, our lives have become more and more difficult. All Israeli institutions are fighting against the Arabs of the Negev in every area of their lives. There is a plot and a conspiracy against the residents of Wadi el-Na’am. They want to destroy the school. We are letting them know that in place of this school, we will build three new ones: one will be run by Sheikh Raed Salah, the second by Hamed Abu Davos and the third by Sheikh Kamal Khatib.

Sheikh Raed Salah, who spoke from the podium with children holding posters with the names of the 45 “unrecognized” illegal villages, delivered a clear message to Israeli leaders:

We say to Praver, the man who is behind the tool of destruction evicting us. We say, `Your plans are dead; your evil is dead, but Allah lives above your evil.’ The Negev has seen many different conquerors throughout its history, but they have all left and the Negev remains. Praver will go too, and the Negev will be here forever.

Moreover, Israel’s apology to Turkey that was made during this time did not go unnoticed:

We see that the Israeli establishment was forced to apologize to Turkey for the crimes [against] the freedom flotilla. It won’t be too long until the establishment will also apologize to the residents of the Negev for each house that was destroyed, for each tree that was uprooted, for each field that was crop dusted from the air.

A more tangible expression of escalation of the nakba ethos among the Bedouin was made during a tour held earlier at Golda Park, near the Mashabei Sadeh crossroads. This area – which until the War of Independence had been settled by Bedouin in a village called Bir Asluj – was destroyed in the wake of the war and subsequently developed into a tourism and leisure spot. Within the framework of “work days” (the illegal building project), the Movement brings schoolchildren on a tour of the area so they can hear “profound explanations of the area’s history.”

One of the Islamic Movement’s projects. Photos: Courtesy of Regavim.

The Mystery of ‘Negev Foundation for Land and People’

The Islamic Movement is not a registered body. It is a collection of hundreds of religious and charitable non-profits that accept the authority of its central leadership. Nonetheless, an illegal building project of this scope wasn’t born ex nihilo. A study of various publications names one central organization over and over again: The Negev Fund for Land and People. The organization is described as the body that plans and carries out a wide variety of projects in the area. The Fund, with its office in the town of Hura, essentially serves as the Negev headquarters of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

The Fund’s role in the projects was described by its director, Achmad El-Said, in an interview for the Islamic Movement’s news agency:

The Fund is that which organizes all technical details of the projects, as well as directly supervising their implementation, so that all the projects will run as one organic unit.

We can determined the Fund’s modus operandi by studying their advertisements; as early as the beginning of January, the Fund announced the opening of registration for the projects and for various suggestions “from residents of the Negev, leadership of the non-recognized villages, schools and the imams in the mosques.” About a week later, the Fund’s leadership met to discuss the different plans, and a group of “experts, contractors, engineers and experienced persons, who would factor the costs and material needed for implementation of the project,” was formed. After a few weeks, a comprehensive tour of the sites set for construction was carried out, and detailed cost estimates were made.

An Islamic Movement’s ad for participation in the annual “Work Days”

A study of the Movement’s modus operandi shows considerable organizational ability, and mainly its impressive leadership qualities. As part of the effort to strengthen solidarity between northern and Negev Arabs, the Islamic Movement created a series of “twin cities,” wherein a settlement or group of villages in the North takes responsibility for Bedouin villages in the South. Thus, after the Negev Fund plans projects for its annual “Work Day,” responsibility for their implementation is handed over to the northern “twin” cities and villages who take upon themselves the fundraising and execution.

Even before the first day of construction, participants are familiar with their designated tasks and how they are to be implemented, so by the afternoon, hundreds of volunteers are able to carry out more than 30 projects and then meet at the closing assembly at Wadi El-Na’am.

This method is characteristic of the decentralized structure of the Islamic Movement described by researcher Atef Abu Ajaj in a Mida interview published together with this investigation.

Islamic Movement Negev and Galilee Twin cities

Northern twin

Negev village

Northern twin

Negev village

El-Jedida, Abu-Sinan, Dir Hana, Wadi Salameh


Tamra, Zabia, Um El-Fahm, Ein el-Saleh, Mashirfa, Salem, Shibli

Abu Talul

Arabeh, Deir Hanna, Nahaf, Majd el-Krum, Dir el-Asad, Ilut, El-Baeina


Muqeible, Nein, Kafr Meser


Mutzmutz, Zelpa, Maaviya

Kafr Soavein

Daburiya, Sandala, Kfar-Kama, Shibli


Kafr Cana, Kalnaswa. Tira

Kafr Avda

Turan Venojidat, Tamra


Sachnin, Wadi-Salameh, Tuba, Kfar Mashhad, El-Mazera


El-Makr, Akko




Kafr Kara


Kabul, Shfaram

Kasir E-Sir

Masir, Jat, Zemer, Jaffa, Lod




Haifa, Ein Hawd, Fureidis, Baka El-Garbiyeh, Jissar E-Zarka, Um El-Fahm, Mashirfa, Ein El-Sahala, Sala’am, Kafr Ara, Arara, Bartaah

Wadi El-Na’am



Kafr Manda


A Mysterious Non-profit?

The fact that the “The Negev Fund for Land and People” is not a recognized Israeli body is most troubling from a legal point of view. From what we could learn, in a study of the databases of registered non-profit organizations and from discussions with people in the field, this group has absolutely no connection with any registered Israeli non-profit organization. It is possible that the group is operating under the auspices of one of the hundreds of charitable non-profits and mosques answering to the Islamic Movement but, anyone who is not privy to that information, will find it nearly impossible to locate it through acceptable channels.

Radicalism in the Negev

“The connection between the Northern branch of the Islamic Movement and the Bedouin settlements should be a source of concern to anyone for whom the State of Israel in general and the Negev in particular is dear,” claims Amichai Yogev, southern coordinator of the “Regavim” movement, a man who is in the field and  fully aware of developments. “The lack of acknowledgement of radical Islam by the Israeli government is well known, and its connection with the Bedouin has brought this way of thinking straight to the Negev. There is no vacuum among the Bedouin, [because] when the government authorities take no responsibility and do not actively enforce the laws, the Islamic Movement steps in. In addition, relations between the Islamic Movement and the Negev Bedouin make it difficult to regulate settlement in the Negev. We at Regavim are closely following these developments with concern, and continue our legal and political activity in order to enforce law and order, even in places far from the public eye, among them, the Bedouin settlements.”


From the speaker of the Ministry of Interior: “The unit for supervision of construction is continuing to monitor building irregularities.”

From the director of the Israel Lands Authority: “Any irregular building or infringement of territory will be located and dealt with within the law.”


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