Analyze This: Tomb of unknown Beduin soldier

Will Abu Muamar be last Beduin tracker to get gov't award?

Two months ago, 96-year-old Abu Muamar, one of the founders of the IDF Beduin Trackers Unit, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the government for service to the state that went back even before the War of Independence. He was the first Beduin tracker to receive such an honor - and the question now is whether he might be the last. Certainly, comparable public recognition won't be coming for the Beduin tracker who lost his life on Thursday, when an explosive device planted alongside the Gaza border fence blew up his patrol jeep. At the request of his family, the soldier's name has been withheld from the press and the media barred from attending his funeral. The fall of this unknown soldier illustrates all too graphically the changing circumstances of Beduin serving in the IDF - especially those from the Negev, where most of Israel's 170,000 Beduin live. The number of Beduin volunteering to serve in the army has declined in recent years, especially since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. For the Beduin, serving in the IDF was once seen as the best way to integrate into Israeli society and receive some of the benefits awarded IDF veterans. But more and more young Beduin are concluding that those advantages aren't worth the increasing hostility they face from within their own communities, especially when they still encounter discrimination within Israeli society as members of the Muslim minority. The growing radicalization of the Israel Beduin community is a complex problem that defies simple explanations and easy solutions. Part of this has been the result of increasing intermarriage between Israeli and Palestinian Beduin, a number now estimated at some 14,000 couples. There's no question, though, that it also represents a failure over decades of official planning toward a minority community that deserved better. Although significant advances in education and health care have been made, the Beduin still lag way too far behind the Jewish majority in these areas. The biggest problem, though, has undoubtedly been in housing and land use. The government's failure to institute a coherent and consistent policy on this issue, one which would deal both fairly and adequately with the needs and rights of the Negev Beduin, while also establishing some kind of order to contain the rash of illegal construction and property-grabbing in the south, has been the main cause of growing friction between the Beduin and the state. It is not surprising, then, that the Beduin tracker killed on duty on Thursday lived in one of the dozens of unauthorized Negev villages that have become flash points of tension between the community and authorities. A growing number of voices have warned that if the land situation in the south is not effectively addressed sometime soon, a "Beduin intifada" will be the inevitable result. In the meantime, though, there are still hundreds of young Beduin who, despite all this, do continue to risk their lives in the IDF on a daily basis, often in some of the riskier tasks in the military. While the bigger Beduin issue is one likely to take decades to be properly addressed, the government can and should do more in the short term to assist Beduin soldiers and veterans who now face prejudice from both sides of the societal divide they straddle, with the better education and employment opportunities they deserve. Alas, we cannot honor by name the brave tracker who gave his life on Thursday. But the country he died while serving to protect can still honor his memory by doing right by his comrades. [email protected]