None of us should be surprised by the intensity of the violent events that transpired last week in the Negev Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran.
About 250,000 Beduin live in the Negev, and the birth rate in this community has been very high since the creation of the state. For years, they have been building houses, planting crops and paving access roads – in other words, building entire communities – illegally and without permits. And the worst part is that Israeli authorities have long done absolutely nothing to put a stop to this unlawful activity. Neither has Israel enforced national marriage or family laws in these communities. In fact, the Interior Ministry turns a blind eye when it sees that the same man has four, five or even six children registered under his name who were born in the same year.
The Beduin community has been completely neglected by each successive government. It receives no extra services in the fields of education, industry or employment that are necessary for them to integrate into modern society. Even in the early 2000s, when authorities began enforcing laws with respect to agricultural and grazing-land rights, we didn’t offer them any alternatives. As a result, many of the younger generation turned to crime and began stealing vehicles and cattle.
Unfortunately, in recent years, many Beduin have found that it’s quite lucrative to join Islamic State or provide safe houses for terrorists from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Only 1–1.5% of Beduin join the IDF, and warnings that a Beduin intifada is expected to break out in the near future have fallen on deaf ears.
A number of Israeli administrations have launched programs to improve things for the Beduin community.
The first one was under prime minister Ariel Sharon, who initiated a program to improve the living conditions of Beduin in the Negev, while at the same time enforcing laws that prevent illegal construction and the improper use of state land.
Absurdly enough, the Authority for the Regulation of Beduin Settlement in the Negev, which attempted to improve their conditions, was established only in 2007. And only in 2011, when a special committee was appointed to address the issue, was an actual plan presented to establish regulated Beduin towns, construct industrial zones and integrate young Beduin into schools and Israeli society. At the same time, police enforcement was increased, which led to greater unrest in Beduin communities.
Sadly, this program was shelved for political reasons and various objections. The industrial zones were never completed, and no unique employment opportunities were ever provided.
Over the years, Israel’s Beduin have found themselves in the lowest socioeconomic position in the entire country. They have the lowest rate of high school graduates, the lowest average salaries and the highest involvement in crime. Government improvement programs have been too late and too slow. Beduin students who aren’t accepted at Israeli universities end up studying in the Palestinian Authority or Jordan, where they often fall under the influence of radical Islamic groups.
The Islamic Movement has succeeded in penetrating deep into the Beduin community, mainly due to intense Beduin frustration from a less-than-ideal situation and a lack of prospects for extricating themselves from their predicament. So for years, hatred toward Israel has been growing and spreading among the Beduin, and it is more often than not expressed through illegal activity.
ISIS’s successes in Iraq and Hamas’s victories in Gaza have bolstered the beliefs of many Beduin that violence is the only path that’s open to them. As a result, more and more young Beduin have joined terrorist groups in a variety of capacities, even being willing to carry out attacks themselves. Two examples are the 2014 Bat Yam attack and the 2016 Sarona Market attack.
It’s important to note that only a small percentage of Beduin are directly involved in terrorism or other anti-Israel nationalistic activities. However, the situation is extremely volatile due to the combination of Arab MKs who advocate violence among Israel’s Arab citizens at every possible opportunity, and Islamic radicals who are drawing record numbers of Israeli citizens into their ranks.
If we don’t take a stand and deal with all of these issues, the situation will only get worse.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.