The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1872] A call for Social Responsibility : Bridging the gap, a cricital solution for the Bedouin minority


"Indeed, this is their land, where they sit, the place they live in. The path the government is taking, using its branches, is not to plan and organize, but rather to uproot and concentrate the Bedouin population in a small area."

Muchamad Bracha, Member in the 17th Israel parliament

"...I dream of rain, I dream of gardens in the desert sand, I wake in vain..."


A drive in the desert has its own rhythm, a rhythm different from the everyday life. As you pass the city of Beer-Sheva, going south towards the Red Sea, the scenery changes dramatically and the green fields gradually turn into yellow dunes. The road stretches for miles with very little change to the scenery. In the desert you can still find untouched natural environment, where camels are seen crossing the road. This ideal scene is, unfortunately, an illusion. To believe it, you must overlook the tents and shacks of the camel owners, scattered on the dunes, hidden in plain view.

Not many people visit this chaotic land; most people would prefer to continue driving. The observant traveler might notice a few children, of school age, herding sheep, barefoot, wearing rags. Only a prolonged stop in one of these so-called settlements would reveal the deprivation, the half-built houses, the lack of paved roads and electricity.

These desert dwellers are called Bedouins. The Bedouins are indeed overlooked.

Their settlements are not recognized by the Israeli government and thus they have themselves become un-recognized. Comprising 3% of the country's population, the Bedouins are a neglected minority, though not the only one. Together with Arabs, Christians, Druses, and Circassians and several other small ethnic and religious groups they make up 24% of the population. Yet many of them feel like second-rate citizens. They suffer from neglect and oppression – in infrastructure, education, employment, and most importantly – the right to lead their lives according to their traditions and beliefs.

In a country that faces violence on a daily basis, it is easy to become indifferent to social issues. The urgent and immediate takes precedence over the long-term and the complicated .The way you treat weaker parties is a key issue. Minority discrimination is not only the cause of large-scale problems. Discrimination leads to poverty, crime and hatred and with so many minorities living in Israel, the problem is immense.

However, the magnitude of minority discrimination isn’t being totally ignored. Social organizations, government initiatives, volunteers, and minority representatives are all working towards a solution, yet very little is achieved. The slow progress has many reasons; inner disputes between different factions of the minorities on terms of how to achieve its goals, and lack of cooperation between the minorities themselves and the authorities, to name a few.

A more general but fundamental cause lies in the question whether Israel is the state of the Jewish people or whether it belongs to every citizen that lives within its borders. This lack of definition leads to double standards when dealing with minorities.

Part of the solution relates to education. Higher education means higher standards of living, and better integration into society, but more importantly, gives tools to achieve their social goals. However, the Bedouins are way behind in terms of education.

Attempts are being made to integrate them into academic life by offering subsidized academic studies and corrective discrimination in the acceptance to academic institutions. However, the fact is that these traditional, sometimes radically conservative societies restrict their sons and daughters from leaving the community out of fear of them losing their tradition and thus preventing them from obtaining knowledge.

The social problems relating to minorities come down to the question of space. This is where we as architects can intervene. Each minority desires control over its personal space in order to maintain its way of life and specific interests. Spatial aspects of the minorities’ problem are what architects relate to. Architects are trained to express social needs in three dimensional solutions. Their unique ability to use a multi-disciplinary approach in order to create radical solutions based on compromises could hopefully lead to opportunities that would successfully cope with the many complications. The involvement of individuals and groups from outside may possibly help creating a suitable solution, although the proper answer may only be found through careful research of the Bedouins’ history, life, tradition, and other special characteristics.

Living in the desert for thousands of years, the Bedouins developed a unique society based on a hierarchy of loyalties and tribal kinship. The Bedouins are divided into tribes, each one led by a sheikh, a tribal leader. This hierarchy means, in principle at least, that all of the Bedouins are perceived to have the same kinship basis.

Disputes are settled, and justice and order are maintained by means of this organizational framework, according to the ethics of collective responsibility. The traditional Bedouins, usually the tribe elders, are fanatical for family honor.

The gender role influences the way women are treated in the Bedouin society.

The way residential houses and tents are being organized dividing areas for women and men.

The Bedouins used to be categorized as semi-nomadic. Living in the desert for so many years they adjusted to the harsh climate. They learned how to make the most out of scarce resources such as camels, which were used for transportation, milk, meat and clothing. They grew crops in the winter and roamed the desert with their herds in the summer. Other means of living came from illegal activities such as smuggling and protection money.

Their vernacular architecture was specially suited the desert using tents while moving from place to place, and building simple but effective mud shacks ventilating the hot, dry air.

Nowadays, together with the other minorities, the Bedouins have had to change their way of living. Once the proud inhabitants of endless deserts, the Bedouins have been forced to settle down in defined areas, no longer using the traditional methods of living. The growing of camels and sheep has been traded with less honorable ways to make a living, forcing many of them to rely on governmental pensions.

While being un-recognized and mistreated in many ways by the authorities, the Bedouins could be and many times are, beneficial Israeli citizens. Many 18 years old Bedouin men join the Israeli army, and serve in difficult and many times dangerous situations for 3 years. Usually, they become scouts and trackers, using their innate skills

that come from being born, and growing up in the desert as nomads.

The sad fact is that after serving the army for 3 long years, most Bedouins return back to their village, into a life that offers no real prospect. The younger Bedouin generation is being added to the greater statistics of unemployment in Israel, and isn’t given the equal opportunity to achieve an academic degree. Thus the gap between them and other young Israelis is increased.

Financial difficulties, lack of education, and the feeling of inequity push many young Bedouins to a life of crime and outside society, widening the circle of injustice.

The problematic situation of the Bedouin minority today originates in the past, and relates to the establishment of the state of Israel. The Bedouin minority was pushed back on the priority list while Israel was fighting for independence and hundreds of thousands of immigrants were coming from the Diaspora and ruined, post Holocaust Europe.

Later, the government tried to solve the situation with municipal, suburban-like settlements. Nevertheless, these urban settlements were boorishly ignoring the strong and essential connection between the Bedouins and the desert. Furthermore, these towns didn't offer enough means of livelihood. Another reason for the failure lies in a, hopefully, honest mistake of placing different rival Bedouin tribes in the same towns, causing old feuds to surface, leading to violence and bloodshed.

Pushing the Bedouin issues aside, together with inadequate funds and poor infrastructural development, caused the residents of the un-recognized existing villages not to move into the new settlements, which were then characterized as failures.

One example is Tel As-Sabi's. Records from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics rank this settlement lowest (1 out of 10) in socio-economic standing, with an average income of 3,237N.I.S to the national average of 6,835N.I.S. Only 28% of grade twelve students are eligible for a high-school diploma.

The master plan for the city of Beer-Sheva, the capital of the southeast part of Israel, was supposed to give a planned solution to the majority of the Bedouin population as well. Its basic version gives a foundation to the recognition of 13 out of 36 unrecognized villages. The difficulty with this master plan was that it did not deal with all of the areas that the Bedouins live in.

Over the years, the distrust between the government and the various Bedouin tribes has grown, leading to accusations instead of working solutions and making the negotiations for new settlements and the improving of old ones almost impossible. The Bedouins believe the government is trying to disinherit them from their lands. On the other hand, the government claims the Bedouins exaggerate their needs, and moreover, demand an unrealistic amount of land.

Currently there is no organized governmental policy; decisions are made by bureaucrats with no consistency.

However, there is some hope still. This ethnic group is becoming more focused on its demands; they are learning how to use their power as a group, operating in a democratic state.

A petition submitted to Israel’s Supreme Court led to some progress in the way they are being treated. High schools were built in Bedouins towns and infrastructure was improved.

On the other side, the government is also taking steps to solve the problems. It has realized that the problem will not disappear. A governmental committee was established to set an organized policy towards the Bedouins and a new plan for recognizing several Bedouin villages was announced.

With the hope of a renewed future in mind, we set out to form a competition. An architectural competition is organized in order to receive new ideas. the goal is to melt the ice around the current situation regarding minorities in general and Bedouins specifically.

We propose to arrange a competition calling for a fresh vision and a new way of creating a 21st century Bedouin village.

A village is an ancient way of living. It is one of the first spatial and social solutions for a community. Over the years there were some attempts to adjust the village to social needs and situations. For example, the Israeli Kibbutz is a fusion of new social ideals with the village way of life.

Every proposal submitted must be judged on its identification and adjustment of the basic principals of the village to the specific context and demands.

As mentioned above, the Bedouins’ traditions and way of living is constantly being challenged. Some of the centuries old traditions are disappearing, while others change. he changes lead to fear, loss of identity and breakage of the family unit. On the other hand, stagnation will only make matters worse. Therefore, in addition to redefining the village for the Bedouins living in a desert, the teams must face the difficult task of offering a new way of life for the Bedouins, keeping some of the traditions and adjusting others.

The participating teams of the competition must answer one question:

Is it possible to plan a modern village for a traditional society?

The proposals should aim to solve the deadlock between the Israeli government’s demands, and the Bedouin minority’s needs. Finding a path that could answer the demands of both sides is the only way to complete such a project and thus will be the basis for judging the proposals. Apart from architects, the proposed competition's judges should come from both sides of the conflict; government officials and Bedouin Sheiks.

The proposal will have to address the demand of the government, which can be summed up as a preference to create a type of dwelling that will not spread and take up needed area. Planning this new way of living must consider the existing context on a larger scale in order to fit governmental plans. All factors; existing settlements, infrastructure, and livelihood etc, must be taken into account in order to create a more feasible outcome.

There is another aspect for the competition. The Negev desert is a special eco-system with special characteristics. It holds unique geographical features such as erosion cirques (a craterlike natural form), dozens of rare animal species and desert flora. In the current atmosphere, nature is no longer a passive participant in the architectural practice. Not giving this issue proper attention, can only lead to irreversible damage.

The teams must learn how the Bedouins are living and used to live in the desert both in the architectural and economical aspects mentioned above. The participants should analyze which methods to keep but also utilize the modern ecological knowledge with the traditional methods they chose to learn from in order to create a sustainable desert settlement.

Each team will have to choose one of the un-recognized villages, and address it specifically, creating a close and personal relation to it. The participants will form a working group that must include at least one architect, one representative from the Bedouin tribe for whom the group plans and a recognized environmental organization representative.

In order to win the competition, team members will have to work as one, learn from each other and produce a practical synthesis of their skills and knowledge. Working in a team will benefit not only the competition's outputs but also, hopefully, open new worlds for the Bedouins participants.

The suggested competition will have 2 phases.

The 1st phase will ask for two things: a physical model, as a way to make this competition as accessible as possible to the general, non-architect public, especially the Bedouin parties, of which most are without computers. The second item is a sketch conveying the team’s vision of the village. Combined, the model and the sketch should convey a simple yet accurate vision and plan for the village.

The teams that will continue to the 2nd phase will be asked to create a more detailed model, and add the specific architectural documents. In this phase, the teams should think how their proposals can be realized.

The proposals from the first stage will be presented in the town of Rahat, the largest Bedouin settlement, while the second stage chosen works will be presented in the city of Beer-Sheva, the Negev district’s capital. We believe that presenting in front of Bedouin and non-Bedouins will enhance the public exposure to the competition and thus to the problem.

The main goal of the competition is not to come up with a finite solution to the Bedouin problem but rather to show new, realistic ways for minorities to integrate with the general public without having to forgo their ethnic identity. To achieve this goal, a true and honest dialogue needs to be established. By bringing both government officials and Bedouin leaders to listen to architecture students’ proposals, produced not in sterile conditions but growing out of true need, the wanted dialogue would definitely be created.

Bezalel's coordinator:

Mr. Uriel Kon

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