On the afternoon of July 14, the media reported that yet another barrage of rockets had landed in open areas in the Negev. Less than 20 minutes later, members of the al-Wakili family from the unrecognized Beduin village of Awajan arrived at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, carrying in their arms two young girls wounded by the rocket fire. The girls had no opportunity to take shelter from the rocket that landed in their village, south of Lakiya, because no sirens were heard; even if they had heard a siren, they certainly wouldn’t find a safe space in a village where construction is forbidden and thus bomb shelters are nonexistent.
In the past few years the media has reported about the situation in the unrecognized Beduin villages in the Negev several times. This population includes some 80,000 Israeli citizens, living in 34 villages not recognized by the state.
As a result, residents of these villages are denied basic services such as connection to electricity, water and sewerage infrastructure. Health and welfare services are inadequate and other basic infrastructure such as access roads and public buildings are nonexistent.
The repeated confrontations between Israel and Gaza during recent years have affected the residents of the Negev and in each successive round the number of rockets aimed at the area has increased. The Home Front Command and various government ministries have worked to defend the communities of the Gaza envelope region (though only partially so), to establish systems that warn of incoming rockets, and to station emergency response teams in every Negev community. These rockets do not distinguish between Jews and Arabs, but the situation in the field reveals wide gaps regarding access to shelters and emergency preparedness measures between the two communities.
Research initiated by the Abraham Fund after the Second Lebanon War found that 86 percent of the recognized Arab communities in Israel are not prepared for emergency situations and suffer from a lack of access to basic rescue services.
Large gaps between these recognized villages and Jewish areas were found with respect to access to shelters and secure spaces, as well as in the allocation of funding for community security officer positions. Needless to say, in the unrecognized Beduin villages of the Negev even these minimal services available to the recognized villages are completely lacking.
The fact that the al-Wakili family members transported the girls to the hospital using their private vehicles and bare hands is not surprising.
In the unrecognized villages in the Negev, there are no rescue services, no ambulances and no firefighters, and the rescue services from nearby locales cannot reach these remote areas because there are no street addresses or access roads. Injured people who need to transport themselves to hospital are at great risk for increased morbidity and mortality in comparison to those transported by trained first responders.
Although a comprehensive plan for recognition of the unrecognized villages in the Negev would offer the optimal solution to these problems, much can be done today in order to mitigate the risk to these communities. Yasser Abu Rejila is an ambulance driver who resides in an unrecognized village in the Negev. Magen David Adom and AJEEC-NISPED jointly operate his ambulance. When Yasser receives a call from one of the villages, he knows how to reach the precise location and how to provide appropriate interim treatment. However, one ambulance is insufficient to cover the entire area of the Negev. We propose that the state adopt this innovative model whereby a local driver operates an ambulance in the unrecognized Beduin villages and funds the operation of several more ambulances, in order to ensure that lives will be saved in the unrecognized villages of the Negev.
There’s no doubt that a consensus solution to the issue of the unrecognized villages in the Negev is essential. Nonetheless, we contend that the state is responsible for providing suitable emergency services in an equal manner to all of its citizens. Community emergency response teams, first aid and ambulance services, mobile concrete protective blocks and assistance in cases of trauma are basic rights for every resident of the state, regardless of their place of residence.
The writers are the co-executive directors of AJEEC-NISPED, a not-for-profit organization that promotes community development in Negev Beduin society.