Driving along the road from Be'er Sheva to Arad, shortly before the turn toward Darijat, you can see the unrecognized Bedouin village that was home to Manhash al-Baniyat, the Israeli soldier who was killed Wednesday in a clash with Palestinian gunmen near the Gaza Strip border, across from Kibbutz Be'eri.
In order to reach the village, you have to travel for several hundred meters along a dirt path, until you come to a few houses, built close together. One of these is the house Manhash built for himself in preparation for his marriage, next month. Since building permits are not granted to Bedouin, he had no choice but to build the house illegally. A demolition order has already been issued. The only water pipe leading to the village is also disconnected. Wednesday, a mourners' tent was added to the already harsh landscape, erected by the army. Now that the army's there, at least there's water, someone remarked half-jokingly.
Musa al-Baniyat was notified of his nephew's death on his pager. The uncle is in charge of the Zaka rescue and recovery service for the unrecognized Bedouin communities dispersed throughout the Negev, and surmised it was his nephew. His fears were confirmed when he, and the rest of the family, arrived Wednesday morning at Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva, where the doctors had fought in vain to save Manhash's life.
The uncle, a tracker in the Israel Defense Forces reserves who served in the career army and whose five sons all served in the army, struggled to take in the news. For two days he had felt his nephew's death was imminent. "I feel guilty, because I persuaded him to enlist," he said, adding: "He was like a son to me. Every time he'd come home he would come see me first, to talk."
Manhash, 20, was the eldest of 18 siblings, born to his father's two wives. He served in the IDF as a tracker, as is customary in his family.
"Here all of the brothers and cousins serve in the army," one relative said Wednesday.
Manhash attended high school in Kseifa, the Bedouin permanent community near his village.
A younger brother is currently in the army.
Asked whether Manhash liked army service, his cousin Awada Smaana gave a sad smile, and said: "That's a tough question. It's a very big dilemma for us, whether or not to enlist. Sometimes you feel like belonging to the state, but sometimes you get fed up because you build a house and they come and destroy it." Smaana grappled with this dilemma himself when he enlisted, caught "between the need to belong and the fact that you feel like you don't belong. It's constant agonizing. I hope our situation will change, but so far it looks like it isn't changing."
Among the mourners who came Wednesday was Faisal Abu Nadi, head of the forum for discharged Bedouin officers and soldiers. The first words he said to the press were: "Why don't you write anything about us? Why do you keep silent about our problems?"
The forum he heads works to increase army enlistment among Bedouin youth. Later he spoke about the challenges army service poses: "The Bedouin soldier who serves is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he wants to be part of the state, on the other hand the state does not treat him well, and on the third hand those among Bedouin society who are opposed to enlistment say to him: 'You volunteered, served, and in the end this is how they humiliate you?'"
According to Abu Nadi, 50 percent of Bedouin discharged from the army remain unemployed.
"No matter what we do, no matter how much we prove our loyalty to the state, we will still be third-class citizens, discriminated against," he said.
Reporters Wednesday suspected that the person who persuaded Manhash's relatives not to talk to the media was Yossi Haddad, commander of the tracker unit. In phone conversations with family members, as well as at Soroka, they agreed to let reporters come. But the first reporters to arrive ¬ two Arab reporters from the south ¬ found that Haddad was not permitting access to the family. The IDF Spokesman's Office responded that the reason the family did not want to talk was that army service is not accepted among residents in their area. Nonetheless, family members openly talked about enlistment.
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