A Bedouin rests with his camel in Zikim beach, on the Mediterranean coast near the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel. REUTERS/Amir Cohen.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A private member’s bill that would require the 3,500 camels owned by Beduin in the Negev to be registered and identified with a chip, and for owners to be criminally liable for damage caused by them, has been sitting in the Knesset for a year without action.
The bill, proposed by Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich in the absence of action by the Agriculture and Transportation ministries to protect vehicles from camels crossing intercity roads, was recently passed on a preliminary reading. But despite the death on Tuesday night of a 13-year-old boy in a car hit by a camel, the injuries of his family and of soldiers whose car ran into the camel’s body on the road, it is not known when the bill will be voted into law.
When The Jerusalem Post
looked for government officials willing to speak about the tragedy, it got the runaround. The spokesman for the Galilee and Negev Development Ministry headed by Arye Deri said the subject was “not our responsibility” and recommended talking to the Transportation Ministry. The ministry spokesman said camels crashing into cars are not its responsibility and sent the Post
on to the National Road Safety Authority, who allowed Avi Azulai, its official in charges of the southern district, to speak.
Azulai said he and his office have been following the problem for more than a decade and trying to ameliorate it. There have been hundreds of such cases since 2007, many of them causing serious injuries, some of them fatal. The latest fatality, in 2016, involved a woman from Kibbutz Hatzerim whose car was hit by a camel wandering about at night.
There used to be as many as 25 accidents involving camels in a year. There are fewer now, but each one is a tragedy, said Azulai.
“The difference between dead and injured is a matter of [bad] luck.”
All the camels in the Negev are owned by Beduin, and they are worth NIS 15,000 to NIS 20,000 apiece. Most of the accidents occur at night on highways lacking fences to keep the huge animals from reaching traffic and lights to illuminate the roads.
“The main problem is that even though the camels are expensive, their Beduin owners do not always tie them down; they allow them to graze freely. The camels must be tied down at night, and during the day, they should graze only with someone’s close supervision,” Azulai said. “We supplied reflective pieces of cloth for putting around the necks of the camels at night, like the yellow vests worn by drivers who exit cars, but the owners refused to use them.”
Today, there are only nonbinding rules, and owners do not have to register their camels with the authorities. “They have identifying rings on their ears,” said Azulai, “but when one is involved in an accident, the owners rush and cut off the animal’s ear. If caught with the ring with a number for the camel, the owners claim they sold the camel years ago.”
To progress, the bill must pass the Prime Minister’s Office regulations unit and then go on to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee and then to the plenum.
Under the Smotrich bill, camels must be identified with an electronic chip in a part of its body that cannot be cut off. If a camel is involved in an accident, the owner can be held responsible and sued for all damages and, of course, fatalities. The bill would also require funds to be spent for enforcement so that violators would be caught and fined.
The Agriculture Ministry has a unit for animal supervision, but it takes responsibility only for diseases and not for their involvement in accidents.
Azulai also noted that on Tuesday a Beduin girl in Tel Sheva was reportedly run over in the driveway near her home. Already 15 Israelis have been killed in road accidents since the beginning of 2018, he said. “If this was the death toll from terrorists, the whole country would be up in arms.”