Amid debates over annexation, the Negev experiences lawlessnes

And this in a geographic region where no one contests which law is applicable, or under whose sovereignty it rests.

Violent clashes between police and residents of Bedouin village in Negev (photo credit: Courtesy)
Violent clashes between police and residents of Bedouin village in Negev
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the government debates whether to extend Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and settlements in Judea and Samaria, a video went viral on social media on Tuesday showing that the Jewish state is having trouble enforcing Israeli law in land that is already part of Israel – the Negev.
That’s right, the Negev, that large tract of land that is already recognized by the world as an integral part of the State of Israel.
In one of the videos, an army jeep in hot pursuit of thieves trying to steal from the training ground at IDF’s Tze’elim base is surrounded by a number of vehicles apparently in cahoots with the thieves, and forced off the road. An IDF officer is surrounded after getting out of the jeep, and an angry exchange takes place, during which another officer – feeling his life was threatened – fired a bullet into the air.
The videos brought onto everyone’s cell phone and laptop a problem that people who live in towns and agricultural communities in the Negev, as well as IDF soldiers training at Tze’elim and other bases in the South, know all too well: utter lawlessness. And this in a geographic region where no one contests which law is applicable, or under whose sovereignty it rests.
Gangs – which according to local officials are well organized and made up primarily of Negev Bedouin – regularly steal from IDF bases and from agricultural areas.
Last month, for instance, thieves broke into Tze’elim and stole weapons and equipment from 13 armored personnel carriers and a tank. There have been reports of reservists afraid to sleep during maneuvers at the base’s expansive training ground out of the fear that when they wake up, their equipment will be gone.
In most instances of theft at Tze’elim and other bases, the IDF – after the fact – turns the case over to the police, which have not shown enormous effectiveness in stopping the phenomenon. What distinguished Tuesday’s incident was that a few IDF officers jumped into their jeep and gave chase.
This incident could have ended much worse than some stolen IDF equipment, a jeep forced off the road, harsh words and a bullet fired into the air. It could have ended in the loss of life.
And loss of life could result if Israel does not wake up and realize that a situation where the Negev resembles the Wild West, where there is seemingly no one to enforce the law, is unsustainable and dangerous. Israel needs to take back control of the Negev, and not allow thugs with walkie-talkies and four-wheel-drive vehicles to wreak havoc and loot with abandon.
But it is not only about law-and-order. There are systemic problems the Bedouin face in the Negev, first and foremost the unresolved issue of the unrecognized communities, for which a solution needs to be found. But just because that issue is hard to resolve does not mean Israel can remove its hands from the difficult chore of enforcing its laws in the region.
The phenomenon of law enforcement absent in areas where it is badly needed is not unique to the South. In the Golan and Galilee, as well as in Judea and Samaria, agricultural theft is a plague, with farmers and ranchers waking up from time to time to find their hard toil wiped out by the theft of their livestock or crops.
And in Arab towns and villages around the country, people are wary of walking the streets because of the fear of being hit by a stray bullet fired by one criminal or another.
Israel cannot allow itself to be divided into areas where the police patrol, and there is law and order; and areas where the police fear to tread, and as a result there is lawlessness.
It is in the Negev, David Ben-Gurion said in 1955, where the “people of Israel will be tested – for only with a united effort of a volunteering people and a planning and implementing state will we accomplish the great mission of populating the wilderness and bringing it to flourish.”
Israel has gone a long way toward realizing Ben-Gurion’s dream of populating the Negev and making it flourish. Now, if it could only enforce its laws there and make it safe.

Tags Negev law