Beduin demonstrators hold signs during a protest in the southern town of Rahat in support of Islamic Jihad activist Mohammed Allan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following a hearing on Sunday before the High Court of Justice in which it pushed for the state to follow through on a commitment to defend Beduin in the South from rocket attacks, an NGO declared that the state could no longer ignore the security of unrecognized Beduin villages.
“The fact itself that we are discussing unrecognized villages does not permit the state to avoid responsibility to defend Israeli-Arab citizens of the state... ensuring safety is part of the obligation of the state to guard the right to life and physical integrity,” said Nasreen Elian, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
At a hearing in July 2015 on a petition filed during the 2014 Gaza war (Operation Protective Edge), the High Court suggested to the state that it broaden its plans for defending southern Beduin from rocket attacks by placing more bomb shelters near key public locations, such as schools and other public buildings, and that it report back on the issue within 60 days.
The suggestion came after what ACRI called a “historic first” in which the state announced it was in principle willing to place bomb shelters in Beduin villages in the South, including some that are not legally recognized.
But at Sunday’s hearing, Elian said little progress had been made.
Elian complained that 360 bomb shelter-type installations were allocated to various groups, but not to the Beduin.
Elian and the Beduin population were also frustrated that more than 18 months after the war, the situation had still not been fixed.
In addition, Elian rejected many of the state’s reasons for not having installed bomb shelters in Beduin villages in the South.
The state’s argument from the start has been that it cannot afford to provide bomb shelters for every small village in the South and that it has prioritized those villages that are less than 40 km. from the Gaza border, regardless of the dominant ethnic group in the village.
Elian pointed out that not only does this automatically exclude many Beduin villages, but even the tens of thousands of Beduin living in villages within 40 km. of the Gaza border have not received bomb shelters.
A lawyer for the Naveh Midbar and al-Kasum regional councils, who mostly sided with the state, countered that there is a hope that many Beduin in unrecognized villages will move into the larger communities where they can be better protected.
State lawyer Chen Segel also countered that the state had unleashed a major information campaign for Beduin about how to remain safe without bomb shelters during rocket attacks, and argued that these safety skills save more lives than bomb shelters, which are meant more to provide the feeling of safety.
According to Segel, many villages are so close to the border that it is unrealistic to expect that most residents will have time to reach bomb shelters.
But Elian countered that – even as lying down on the ground instead of standing was valuable advice – nothing provides as much safety as an actual structure, like a bomb shelter, which can withstand an attack.
The three justices – Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubinstein, Justice Zvi Zylbertal and Justice Yoram Danziger – pressed the state hard for specific details, including whether analogous Jewish villages in the South still lacked bomb shelters.
During the 2014 Gaza war, some Beduin civilians were killed by Hamas rockets in areas with no bomb shelters.
One of the petitioners represented by ACRI is Omar Al Wakili, the uncle of Maram and Asil Wakili – aged 11 and 13, respectively – who were wounded when a rocket hit their village.
Two days after the petition was filed, Auda al-Wadj, 32, was killed in a rocket explosion that wounded five members of his family, including a newborn infant, said ACRI.
The petition deals with 46 villages, 35 of which are not recognized by the state.