- The right to vote for the Knesset is a constitutional basic right enshrined in Article 5 of the Basic Law: The Knesset. Some 40,000 Bedouins eligible to vote in the elections who live in the unrecognized villages in the Negev (hereinafter – “the Villages”) are in practice denied this right. The reason for this is the policy permitting these residents to realize their right to vote for the Knesset only at polling stations situated between 5 and 65 km from their place of residence. This situation, together with the lack of suitable public transportation services in the area of the Villages (and the total lack of public transportation within the villages) that could be used to reach the polling stations from the Villages, means that many residents of the Villages do not exercise their right to vote in the Knesset elections. Turnout among residents of the Villages in the recent rounds of Knesset elections is tens of percentile points below the national turnout rate, providing clear evidence of this reality.
- In the past, Bedouin residents living in the Negev voted at polling stations situated in their communities, including communities that are not currently recognized by the state. Thus, for example, members of the Al-Uqbi tribe voted in the elections to the First Knesset at a polling station situated in the village in which they lived – Al-Araqib – an unrecognized Bedouin village that was demolished in 2010.
- As part of the policy intended to cause Bedouin residents of the Negev to relocate to the recognized designated permanent settlements in the region, since the mid-1980s polling stations have no longer been placed in the Villages, and their residents are required to vote for the Knesset at polling stations situated in recognized Bedouin communities. Thus, for example, residents of the Bedouin village of Wadi a-Na’am, who from the establishment of state voted at a polling station in the community itself, were asked to move to Segev Shalom following its establishment in 1985. After they refused, the state informed them that henceforth they would only be able to vote at the polling station in Segev Shalom.
- The polling stations in which residents of the Villages are to vote are allocated according to the names of tribes. Each resident is included in a list of voters at a dedicated polling station for the tribe to which they belong – this without taking into account the distance between the polling station and the place of residence.
- This creates absurd situations in which despite the presence of a polling station close to the resident’s place of residence, in which they could vote, the resident is required, due to their tribal affiliation, to get to a polling station situated at a great distance from their place of residence to exercise their right to vote in elections. Thus, for example, residents of the unrecognized Bedouin community of Fura, close to Arad, who are divided into three different tribes, voted at three different locations in the elections to the Twenty-Fourth Knesset. Most of these polling stations were located many kilometers from residents’ homes. The polling station for members of the Abu Jawiad tribe is located in Arara, approx. 30 km from Fura; members of the Abu Rabia tribe were asked to vote in Kuseife, at a distance of approx. 10 km; and members of the Jabu’a tribe were asked to vote at a polling station at the school adjacent to the village – a building recognized by the authorities. Reaching the remote locations requires a journey by motor vehicle. For residents who do not own a private vehicle, the journey to Kuseife takes between one and two hours in each direction: walking a distance of 1–7 km to Road 31, and then waiting for a bus to Kuseife. The journey to Arara also takes between one and two hours.
[A] A table detailing the names of the unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev, the tribes, and the number of residents in each community, as well as the distance from the recognized communities in which the polling stations at which the residents of the unrecognized community are eligible to vote, is attached as Appendix A.
- The difficulty facing residents of the Villages interested in exercising their right to vote is exacerbated enormously in the case of elderly voters who must spend many hours traveling, sometimes using public transportation.
- There can be no doubt that the great difficulty in reaching polling stations situated at a considerable distance from Knesset election voters’ place of residence, constitutes a primary cause of the low turnout rate among residents of the Villages.
[B] A table of figures illustrating the low turnout among residents of the Villages is attached as Appendix B.
- Moreover, the situation described above is also incompatible with the guiding principle that emerges from the provisions of the Knesset Elections Law [Combined Version], 5729-1969 (hereinafter: “the Elections Law”) that in determining the location of polling stations, it should be ensured that the location of the polling station is determined in a manner that reduces as much as possible the distance between the station and the place of residence of those eligible to vote there (see articles 68(a) and 70(a) of the Law).
- Appeals on this subject submitted to the Central Elections Committee and the Regional Elections Committee have failed to resolve the issue. The replies to these appeals noted that an attempt would be made to provide transportation for the Village residents, however this proposal was not implemented, and in any case, it does not offer a substantive solution.
- During a discussion held by the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on June 1, 2022 on the subject of improving access to voting for residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev, Mr. Lior Kalfa, the representative of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, remarked that there are polling stations situated in the service centers operational in Bedouin communities in the Negev; among these, he mentioned Bir Hadaj, Kuhla, A-Turshan al-Asam, Al-Asam B, Al-FuraB, and Tel Arad. Al-Fura and Tel Arad are, of course, unrecognized villages.
The following is a link to the protocol of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting on June 1, 2022:
[C] A copy of the relevant section of the protocol of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting of June 1, 2022 is attached as Appendix C.
- These remarks show that polling stations are positioned in the service centers operational in the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. This occurs despite the determination of the Central Elections Committee that it is impossible to position polling stations in public buildings established by the state in these Villages since their residents do not have addresses, as the Villages are not registered as places of residence in the Population Registry.
- In light of this state of affairs, on August 21, 2022 a petition was submitted to the Central Elections Committee requesting that the Committee help tens of thousands of residents of the Villages exercise their right to vote in the elections for the Twenty-Fifth Knesset by expanding the number of polling stations situated in public buildings / service centers operational in these Villages. However, on August 23, 2022, the petition was rejected, noting that to the best of the authorities’ knowledge and examination, no official body in the State of Israel has precise data concerning the place of residence of the residents of the unrecognized villages within the borders of the tribal address, and that, in any case, in accordance with the Law the Elections Committee is to rely solely on the Population Registry (which states a tribal address for the residents of the Villages).
- We should note that, to the best of our knowledge, the allocation of electors among the residents of the Villages to the polling stations is based on two aspects – tribal affiliation and family affiliation order to ensure the maintenance of the provisions of the Elections Law concerning the maximum number of voters permitted at a polling station. However, as already stated, allocation to a particular polling station was not made in a manner that reduces as far as possible the distance between the elector’s place of residence and the polling station. Accordingly, it should be determined that the exercising of the right to vote of the residents of the Villages will be based on geographical proximity to a polling station, to be determined in accordance with the place of residence of each family, or at least – of the majority of members of the tribe to which the elector belongs, based on any lawful registry held by the state and, as necessary, with the assistance of persons in the field in possession of this knowledge, including the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, and Neve Midbar and Al-Qasum Regional Councils.
- It should further be noted that during the Twenty-Fourth Knesset a Proposed Law: Knesset Elections (Amendment No. 76) (Address for the Purposes of Elections), 5782–2022 was tabled before the Knesset for First Reading. The amendment stated that an elector would be able to submit notification, prior to the Knesset elections, of the address for the purpose of the elections – an address that could be registered as the address in the Population Registry and used for the purpose of voting in the Knesset elections. Regrettably, the advancement of the proposed law, which could have significantly improved access to the right to vote among residents of the unrecognized villages, was halted with the dispersion of the Twenty-Fourth Knesset.
- In light of all the above, we urge the Committee members to act promptly to enable the residents of the Villages to exercise their right to vote for the Knesset, in the following proposed manner:
- Residents living in the communities of Rahma, Abda, Al-Gara, Khirbet al-Watan, Al-Fura, Tel Arad, A-Zarnuq, Wadi a-Na’am – these communities have legal prefabricated buildings approved by the state under the framework of the Southern District Outline Plan (D/O/P 14/4 (Amendment No. 40)), permitting the establishment of prefabricated buildings in the Villages for the purpose of providing vital services, such as health and education buildings. The existing legislation should be amended to permit the residents of these communities to vote at polling stations to be located in the legal prefabricated buildings situated in the communities.
- Bedouin residents living in villages that do not have legal public buildings – the existing legislation should be amended so that the residents of these communities are eligible to vote at mobile polling stations.
- For the purpose of determining a voter’s place of residence for the residents of the Villages, and to allocate them to the nearest polling station to their place of residence, use will be made of any lawful registry in the possession of the state and, as necessary, the assistance of persons in the field in possession of this knowledge, including the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, and Neve Midbar and Al-Qasum Regional Councils.
- The Proposed Law: Knesset Elections (Amendment No. 76) (Address for the Purposes of Elections), 5782–2022 (or a similar proposed law) should be advanced, stating that a voter may submit notification prior to the Knesset elections of an address that can be registered in the Population Registry for the purposes of voting in Knesset elections.
- The Knesset Elections Law currently includes special provisions concerning voting by various populations – women staying in shelters for battered women, police personnel and soldiers, sailors, and passengers on sailing vessels, and so forth. These provisions seek as far as possible to enhance access to the right to vote for members of these population groups. In the same manner, the Law should be amended to permit voting by residents of the unrecognized villages at polling stations adjacent to their place of residence, as is the case with other Israeli citizens.
List of names of the unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev showing the number of residents in each community and the distance to the recognized communities where the polling stations the residents of the unrecognized community are eligible to vote at are situated:
|Name of Community
|Estimated No. of Residents
|Distance to the Recognized Community and Polling Station Where Residents are Eligible to Vote in Elections
|40 km to Segev Shalom
|60 km to Segev Shalom
|40 km to Qasar a-Sar
20 km to Tel Sheva
20 km to Abu Talul
|35 km to Abu Talul
|15 km to Kuseife
30 km to Hura
35 km to Laqiya
|18 km to Tel Sheva
20 km to Arara
30 km to Kuseife
|10 km to Abu Talul
15 km to Tel Sheva
|8 km to Abu Talul
12 km to Tel Sheva
|8 km to Segev Shalom
|10 km to Tel Sheva
30 km to Hura
|20 km to Segev Shalom
|10 km to Kuseife
|Atir – Umm al-Hiran
|5–9 km to Hura
|5 km to Abu Talul
|5 km to Abu Talul
15 km to Arara
25 km to Tel Arad
30 km to Laqiya
|20 km to Abu Talul
10 km to Hura
|7 km to Abu Qarinat
|10 km to Kuseife
30 km to Arara
|15 km to Kuseife
25 km to Arara
|65 km to Segev Shalom
|40 km to Kuseife
Table of statistics illustrating the low turnout rate among residents of the unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev:
|Elections to 18th Knesset
|Elections to 19th Knesset
|Elections to 20th Knesset
|Elections to 21st Knesset
|Elections to 22nd Knesset
|Elections to 23rd Knesset
|Elections to 24th Knesset
|National turnout %
|Turnout among Arab citizens %
|Turnout in recognized Bedouin communities in Negev %
|Turnout in tribal polling stations %
 The identity cards of most of the residents of the unrecognized Bedouin committees specify the name of the tribe to which the resident belongs, in place of an address.