Beduin women of the Negev: The brutal conspiracy of silence

House demolitions, the terrible overcrowding and disregard for the Beduin woman’s struggle makes them doubly invisible.

Beduin women in Rahat, Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beduin women in Rahat, Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Beduin-Arab villages were created as ghettos filled with poverty, neglect and lawlessness. In this no-man’s land, atrocities occur against the weakest link in our society: women and children. These are abandoned areas, where minors without a license drive cars, women are murdered with impunity in the middle of the night, men marry more than one woman (which comes as a surprise to the first wife) and the welfare system and other official bodies does not intervene in these manifestations of domestic violence.
This creates a space in which women, young girls and children live in daily fear of the dissolution of the twisted norms that have formed around for many years. These women live in fear of losing their homes and living unprotected. The brutal patriarchal system, the growing lack of supervision in these areas and a government that does not pity but threatens all mean these people lack the minimum conditions needed to live a dignified life.
Over the past decade, 75 Israeli Arab women were killed from the north to the south. Just recently a woman’s body, a mother of two from the Negev, was found. Although an investigation was opened, law enforcement authorities have not yet published the results. The blood of the dead has cooled and the murderer has not been found.
Alleged victims of actor Bill Cosby starred non-stop for weeks in the media and on social networks. Are the lives of Israeli Arabs less important? And it isn’t only the authorities that have abandoned Arab women, but also the Israeli media, which has joined the brutal conspiracy of silence.
During their lives, Arab women in the Negev live in some of the most difficult conditions in the country. Unbearable poverty: over 80 percent of families in the Negev suffer from poverty, housing density and unemployment. According to NGO reports, over 75% of women in the unrecognized villages over the age of 35 are illiterate. About 90,000 men and women live in the unrecognized villages, in the absence of the most basic human necessities such as running water, electricity, paved roads, jobs or adequate health services. These conditions are hampering Beduin society as a whole, but women and children most of all.
House demolitions, the terrible overcrowding and disregard for the Beduin woman’s struggle and difficulties on the part of the social services and education and health departments in these villages makes them doubly invisible – both in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the patriarchal society they live in. Political and legal abandonment opens the door to patriarchy, which can act however it pleases. Arab women, particularly in the Negev, are subject to high levels of violence. A report published by the NGO Itach – Women Lawyers for Social Justice shows that over 80% of Arab women in the Negev are victims of domestic violence.
Why aren’t the legal systems intervening? Perhaps this is yet another example of political interests and government hypocrisy? Because the law actually is enforced in these places: when an “unknown” house is build in the village, authorities know exactly how to find the residents. In cases where the state deems it necessary to demolish homes, it has no problem “intervening.”
But when it comes to the murder of women police helplessness is simply embarrassing our democracy, the one the government is supposed to serve. It seems that as long as the murder of women is not a political or security threat to the country such murders will continue, and “family honor” will continue to be considered a legitimate anchor for the constant neglect of women by the state.
But no more: women leaders and Arab social activists organized two protests two weeks ago against this phenomenon and demanded protection of women under the law. They cannot stay silent, cannot contain the injustice being done in their society under the eye of the law. They demand its protection.
The author is a senior lecturer at Ben-Gurion University, a feminist activist and a researcher in the fields of feminism, education and employment among Palestinian women in Israel; the article originally appeared in Hebrew in the ‘Sicha Mekomit’ online magazine.