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The Israeli science and technology minister Ghaleb Majadle — the country's first Muslim minister — reopened a research and development centre for the Bedouin Arabs of southern Israel this week (4 September).

The centre, located in Hura in the Negev desert, had been in operation for three years, but was closed earlier this year due to budget cuts and poor planning.

It focuses on the research and development of the Arab Bedouin, the indigenous people of the Negev desert, who represent approximately 12 per cent of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.

Majadle's ministry will fund the centre for one year, after which its achievements will be assessed, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Ahad-Academics for the Advancement of Arab Society in the Negev will run the centre, with academic supervision from southern Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The centre will conduct research into areas such as desert agriculture, technology, health and education.

Agricultural research will focus on developing herding programmes for sheep, goats and camels and producing drought-resistant crops as well as programmes for cultivation of medicinal herbs in the desert.

And technological research will focus on producing solar energy to desalinate water, to tackle the community's shortage of drinking water.

The centre will also set up programmes to prevent and treat chronic diseases that result from poor diets and high smoking rates, and genetic diseases resulting from the practice of inter-family marriage.

Avinoam Meir, a professor of geography and environmental development at Ben-Gurion University, said, "The Bedouin community constitutes a huge enclave of a host of social, economic, medical, environmental and other problems, perhaps with the highest intensity in the entire state."

"Only an intensely concentrated and, hopefully, integrated research effort can begin to approach solutions to these grave problems."

Ohad Birk, Director of the Genetics Institute at Ben Gurion University, said the centre would also assist Bedouin scientific leaders in translating traditional tools into modern biotechnology, such as knowledge of useful antibodies from camel milk and the use of traditional herb mixtures as medicines.