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Hundreds of Beduin who drove to the Knesset from across the country were infuriated on Wednesday when few government representatives attended a special day for the rights of the Beduin in Israel.
Interior Minister Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) canceled his appearance at the Knesset Committee on the Interior and Environment at the last moment, prompting Beduin leaders there to question how the government hoped to help the community when it refused to attend joint meetings.
"We don't have an explanation for why no one from the Interior Ministry came, but this is not the way to work through the issues on the table," said committee Chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor).
The dozens of Beduin leaders who had attended the panel's discussion on the issues facing unrecognized Beduin villages said that the lack of government interest typified the problems they faced.
Later, the plenum had barely a dozen MKs in their seats as the discussion began. The rafters, however, were filled with several hundred Beduin.
"If we could drive here from the South, some of us driving four hours to get here, why couldn't the government make the minimal effort to arrive?" asked Ahmad Abu Sullim, who lives in an unrecognized village near Rahat.
Only late in the afternoon, during a ceremony held by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, both of Kadima, did government representatives speak with the Beduin.
The Citizens' Accord Forum presented the Knesset with a series of recommended changes on how welfare funds are allocated to Arab local councils.
The forum recommended that the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry increase its funding to the more needy councils, while allowing those communities to pay lower municipal taxes.
Many Beduin councils are deeply in debt and cannot pay the 25 percent share required for the Welfare Ministry to fund benefits for their residents, the forum said. It recommended that the government provide grants to local councils and arrange job training programs.
Opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) also called for new business programs to be launched for the Beduin community, saying that until incentives were provided, the communities could not hope to improve their economic situations.