The EcoKhan is a project of Bustan (www.bustan.org), aimed at supporting Bedouin self-determination, promoting Bedouin-Jewish co-existence, developing and demonstrating sustainable strategies for enhanced food security and environmental protection, and supporting the development of eco-tourism and small business opportunities in the Bedouin sector in Israel.
The project is supported through ongoing international permaculture courses (the PermaNegev Program), which help to stimulate site development and community involvement in the centre. The EcoKhan already regularly hosts groups on 'fact-finding missions' - seeking to learn more about the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev, as well as regular 'Mud and Music' volunteer weekends, where Bedouin and Jewish citizens of Israel can work and learn side by side. In the future we hope it will develop into a visitors centre (with marketing of local products), eco-tourism business and permaculture demonstration site that will both stimulate economic growth in the village and promote awareness of the situation of the Bedouin.
The village of Qasr A Sir is the home of the Al-Hawashleh tribe, and has a population of some 1100 people. It has recently transitioned from being an 'illegal' or 'unrecognized' village to being part of the 'Abu Basma' municipality. Over 150000 Bedouins live in villages that are not recognized by the State of Israel and are subject to home demolition, destruction of crops, harassment and deprivation as basic services are denied (the village of Wadi El Naam for example is right next to the Israel Electric Company's power station and yet receives no electricity).
Development challenges are severe and years of under-development have left their mark - there is no functioning sewage system in the village, the water network is 'home-made' and consists of an assortment of pipes running along the ground, electricity is from privately owned solar panels (except for the school), an economically, its inhabitants are among the most disadvantaged of Israel's citizens.
Permaculture can help to overcome or ameliorate some of these challenges, whilst simultaneously protecting and enhancing the environment. Qasr A Sir also provides a small window of opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of 'Bedouin self-determination', whereby the ancient culture is respected and preserved, rather than being forcibly 'transformed' into a sub-standard replica of industrialised society.