Unrecognized Arab villages in Israel

Around 90,000 Arabs live in the 176 unrecognized villages inside Israel, mainly in the Galilee or the Negev desert. These villages do not officially exist. They are unrecognized because their inhabitants are in effect internal refugees. During the 1948 war many left their homes, believing they would return once the fighting had ended. Many Palestinians found themselves outside the borders of Israel. The internal refugees remained within the borders of the new state but were unable to return to their villages.

Non-recognition means the villagers are not entitled to municipal services like water, electricity, roads, transport, sanitation, education or healthcare. The postal and telephone systems do not serve them. Refuse is not collected. In 1992, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled that these villages should be connected to the Israeli national water system.

The threat of further dispersal exists. Israel’s 1965 Planning and Construction Law did not include the unrecognized villages in municipal plans. This means both construction and residence in these areas are illegal under Israeli law. Residents are instructed to demolish their own houses. Failure to do so can result in arrest and fine. If houses are demolished by the israeli police, the owners have to pay the costs.

The Labour government of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres recognized eight of these villages and raised slight hopes. These hopes were dashed by the Netanyahu government which froze the recognition process.

The issue of unrecognized villages is part of the larger problem of discrimination and the status of second-class citizens the Israeli Arabs are facing.