Lawless south

“We cannot tolerate violating the law and we will take action.”

THE BEDUIN encampment of Khan al-Ahmar is seen near Ma’aleh Adumim. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
THE BEDUIN encampment of Khan al-Ahmar is seen near Ma’aleh Adumim.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Beduin lawlessness in the Negev is nothing new. And our law enforcement institutions are fighting an uphill battle.
In the Negev, subversion of law and order begins from the ground up. Dozens of illegally built Beduin villages are strewn throughout the region. Attempts by the state to bring order and regulate where one can and cannot build have been met by often violent protests. In January 2017, Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an and police officer Erez Lev were killed during rioting in Umm al-Hiran, an illegal Beduin village.
NGOs such as Adalah with stridently anti-Zionist and progressive agendas accuse the government and the Supreme Court of racism. Radical activists claim the “indigenous” status of Beduin gives them a mandate to ignore Israeli law. And this gives justification for Beduin “revenge” attacks against neighboring kibbutzim and Jewish villages that include the destruction of irrigation systems, thefts and structural damage after every evacuation of an illegal Beduin village.
The bizarre cooperation between progressives and Muslim fundamentalists, familiar in Europe and in the US, is on full display in the Negev as well. Those clamoring to protect the property rights of Beduin in the name of a self-styled anti-imperialist agenda are remarkably silent about polygamy – illegal in Israel – and violence against Beduin women, including against those who dare to pursue an advanced education away from their village.
The lawlessness extends to Beduin’s relations with their Jewish fellow citizens as well. Dozens of Jewish business owners are forced to pay extortion in the form of “security services.” A Beduin must be hired by the business to “protect” against theft. If the business owner chooses not to participate in the proffered arrangement, he or she becomes the target of thefts.
Beduin gangs also attack drivers on the roads and engage in petty thefts. Camels left unattended stray onto the roads, resulting in dozens of accidents and at least one death in recent years, that of David Cohen of Retamim, a Negev kibbutz.
It has become accepted practice that Mekorot, the national water company, and the Israel Electric Corporation turn a blind eye to Beduin rigging of water and electric lines. They know from experience that it is cheaper for them to ignore the thefts. Attempts to combat the thefts result in constant sabotage of water and electric lines.
Clearly a large part of the problem of lawlessness in the Negev stems from the Beduin’s feeling of disenfranchisement from the Jewish state. And this is a vicious circle: The state of lawlessness strengthens the feeling among Beduin that they are outside the state’s purview, which deepens their alienation.
Organizations intent on bashing Israel for its “racist” settlement policy in the Negev are a radicalizing element, as are Arab Knesset members who regularly take the side of the lawless Beduin squatters against the state.
Part of the solution is to double down on enforcement so that the rule of law is not undermined in the Negev.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday that the government will take steps to ensure that the law will be better enforced in the South is encouraging.
“The law applies to everyone,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Arab sector. “We cannot tolerate violating the law and we will take action.”
Netanyahu was responding to two videos that went viral in recent days. One shows men leaning out of their cars shooting rifles toward the sky, reportedly during a wedding in the Beduin village of Segev Shalom.
The other video is security camera footage of Beduin attacking a car stopped at a red light on a main thoroughfare in the Negev.
The challenges facing Israel in integrating its Arab and Beduin citizens is not unlike Europe’s difficulty dealing with the waves of immigrants from Muslim states, many of whom are refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria. In both cases, democratic societies are grappling with a radicalized Muslim minority that feels alienated in part because it does not share the values of the majority culture.
There are no easy answers to this state of affairs. But a good place to start is enforcing the rule of law, which is the basis for every healthy democracy.