In Israel, it is currently estimated that there are about 170,000 Bedouins — a traditionally nomadic Arab minority. A majority of them, approximately 110,000 people, live in the Negev desert, which makes up most of the country’s south.
The Israeli government has promised amenities for the Bedouin, but many of their villages go unrecognized and receive little to no services.
Worldfocus contributing blogger Ben Moscovitch discusses the current situation of Israel’s Bedouin population.
When speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict, we generally conjure images of Hamas in Gaza or a potential war with Syria. However, another group of Arabs constitutes a considerable issue for Israel — the Bedouins in the Negev.
Prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, small Bedouin tribes (or clans called hamullahs) travelled throughout the Negev Desert, cultivating land and periodically relocating. As towns and kibbutzim began sprouting throughout the desert, these new settlements began affecting the movement patterns of Bedouin tribes.
While some of these tribes settled in permanent towns developed and funded by the Israeli government (such as Rahat or Tel Sheva), other Bedouins opt to retain their historical status outside established cities. The causes for this decision stem from various ideologies.
First off, some Bedouins prefer their historical way of life. They opt for lives unbound by modern notions, such as boundaries. Instead, by living in temporary huts, the Bedouins can relocate throughout the desert.
Second, by accepting amenities from the government in modern cities, Bedouins would need to pay for these services. Instead of paying taxes and for water or electricity, Bedouins can live in make-shift villages without these amenities and without paying the government.
Lastly, some Bedouins have ideological objections to living in an official town within Israel. These individuals retain sympathy to Palestinians and some even assist Hamas through smuggling efforts. After Hamas launches rockets into Israel, these Bedouins also may notify Hamas officials of the direct location of the rocket strike in order to improve rocket accuracy. Conversely, some Bedouins ascribe to the exact opposite mentality and even serve in the IDF. In fact, many of the military’s best trackers are Bedouin.
Due to the make-shift nature of these towns (regardless of the reasons for their status), these villages remain impoverished compared to permanent settlements in the Negev Desert. According to Bedouin officials, their towns lack proper education and health services from the government. Most of these areas also lack a proper transportation infrastructure, including roads. These towns, officially referred to as “unrecognized villages”, remain devoid of virtually any government services. However, the Israeli government erected top-notch facilities in official Bedouin towns that are recognized by the government. In these villages, such as Rahat, Bedouin children attend similar schools to Jewish Israeli children. Some of the structures in official Bedouin villages, though, are dilapidated and could use significant renovations. Many Israelis contend that Bedouins strip these structures of metal and other valuable products for their personal use. Bedouins contend that Israel built sub-standard structures for their villages.
Moreover, the main Negev hospital in Beer Sheva treats both Israelis and Bedouins. Entering the hospital, a significant percentage of patients are Bedouins and they receive standard health care. Similarly, Bedouins attend many of the michlalot (effectively community colleges) in the Negev to learn, predominantly, agriculture and education to teach in local schools. Some Bedouins also earn legitimate degrees at the Negev’s main higher-education institution, Ben Gurion University.
As Israeli towns expand and Bedouins are forced into relocation by these growing cities, the tension in the Negev will surely continue. The vast majority of Bedouins may change their attitudes and live in official villages or a new uprising may be brewing.
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