Israel’s Bedouin minority has one of the highest birth rates in the world. The Bedouin population of the Negev now totals approximately 190,000. About 90,000 of those live in 45 Bedouin villages in the Negev. Ten of these villages are in the process of being recognized and the other 35 are not officially recognized by the Israeli authorities and are thus denied access to nearly all government services such as roads, water, sanitation, electricity, and garbage collection. Unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev have some of the highest poverty rates in all of Israel. In 2007, 71.5% of Bedouin households were under the poverty line, compared to 54.5% in non-Bedouin Arab households and 16.2% in Jewish households.
About another 90,000 people live in the seven government townships. The process of urbanization has made it difficult for the Bedouin to practice their traditional lifestyle of agriculture and animal husbandry. The dearth of economic opportunities has given rise to high unemployment and alarming crime rates. In February 2009, the average unemployment rate for the seven Bedouin townships was 16.2% (ranging from a high 18.9% in Laqiya to 12.2% in the large city of Rahat).This compares to a 7.6% national unemployment rate over the same time period.
The Israeli government states:
Urbanization and modernization in recent decades have shaken the socioeconomic foundations of the Bedouin society and brought with it delinquency, high school dropout rates, and drug abuse that were not as common before. The permanent residences also brought with it tension between the younger educated generation and the traditional leadership of Sheikhs and heads of tribes.1
Bedouin Israelis have more limited access to educational opportunities and health care. Approximately one third of Israeli Bedouin citizens aged 45-59 and some 38% of those aged over 60 are unable to read and write. Only five unrecognized Bedouin villages have been able to establish some form of school; none of these exceed middle-school level education. The Israeli government provides no health care services in the unrecognized Bedouin village. Only a couple of villages that have been recognized or are in the process of recognition have access to government health clinics, and these clinics remain ill-equipped to treat serious ailments.