Israel’s top Arab MP began a four-day walk to Jerusalem on Thursday in a show of support for the impoverished Bedouin community and to put a spotlight on the “human misery” they face.
Ayman Odeh, who was elected in last week’s Israeli polls and heads the Arab parliamentary bloc, set off on a 100-kilometre (60-mile) walk from the southern Negev — where he has long campaigned for the rights of Bedouin Arabs.
Odeh leads the Joint List, an alliance of Israel’s main Arab parties which won 13 of parliament’s 120 seats, becoming the third largest grouping in the Knesset.
As part of the opposition, it has vowed to fight for the rights of Israel’s Arab minority which accounts for more than a fifth of the population and to push for a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Odeh began his march with several dozen supporters in the Bedouin village of Wadi al-Naam which is located near the southern city of Beersheba but is not recognised by Israeli authorities.
“The Negev is precious to us!” they chanted, wearing T-shirts and yellow baseball caps bearing the slogan “March for recognition”.
One of Odeh’s key election pledges was to secure formal recognition for more than 40 Bedouin villages in the area that have no running water, are not connected to the electricity grid and lack basic infrastructure due to their unrecognised status.
He will visit several of the biggest villages on the four-day march to Jerusalem, and will camp out with protesters at night.
“In these villages there is no electricity, no water. Children have to walk tens of kilometres (miles) to attend primary school,” he told AFP.
“This is human misery and it must stop now.”
Around 260,000 Bedouin live in Israel, more than half of them in unrecognised villages without utilities. Many live in extreme poverty.