How physical conditions in Israel’s unrecognised villages affect children’s health

Reference: Early Childhood Magazine

By Amny Athamny, Health Promotion Director, NISPED-AJEEC, Beer Sheva, Israel

Thousands of young children are growing up in ‘unrecognized villages’ in Arab Bedouin communities in the south of Israel. This article explores what ‘unrecognized’ status means, and its implications for the health of young children. Young children growing up in ‘unrecognized villages’ among the Arab Bedouin community in the south of Israel face risks to their health. This fact is acknowledged in a research report for the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in 2011:

Rates of hospitalization for infectious diseases are higher among Arab-Bedouin children compared to Jewish children in the south of Israel for gastrointestinal infectious diseases, diseases that are influenced by living conditions. The report is based in part on a study published in 1998 which identified a significant increase in intestinal infections and diarrhea in Arab-Bedouin children during the summer months.

The report points out that such infections are found mainly in developing countries, starkly illustrating the impact of living in an ‘unrecognized village’ even in a relatively high-income country.

So what does it mean in practice for villages to be ‘unrecognized’ by the public authorities? Although the rest of the country has effective water, sewerage and electricity networks, unrecognized villages are not connected to any of them. The paved road network does not extend to unrecognized villages. Garbage collectors do not visit unrecognized villages. For public authorities and public services, unrecognized villages are effectively not on the map – although, in reality, many have been in existence for hundreds of years. According to estimates made by the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in 2006, the population of unrecognized villages is around 48,430 (Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, 2006). A further 32,200 live in ‘under-recognized’ villages where conditions are somewhat better, and 134,000 members of south Israel’s Arab Bedouin community live in recognised villages, according to the National Insurance Institute of Israel1. Most residents of the unrecognized villages live in shacks or tents, whereas residents of recognized villages mostly have stone houses (Al-Krenawi, 2004). Living in an unrecognized village also brings the constant threat of having one’s home demolished. Over the last 5 years, an average of around 60 homes per year have been demolished2. This has a tremendous impact on children’s mental state. As a psychiatrist involved with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) explains:

For children, it is not only a physical place to live which is destroyed, but also their innate trust in their parents’ ability to protect them and in their family as a safe haven. Undermining this trust can lead to a wide range of psychopathologies such as personality disorders, depression, behavioral problems, social avoidance, learning problems and addictions.

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