Text size

For Udda Eliada, a hit-and-run accident is one in which he is hit - and is also the one who runs away.

Four years ago, Eliada - a 36-year-old man who was raised by members of the Al-Azzama Bedouin tribe in the Negev after being orphaned in the Sinai as a child - suffered internal injuries when a car hit him as he was walking on the road near Mishmar Hanegev. Although the driver tried to convince him to go to the hospital, Eliada preferred to flee the scene. After all, he has no legal standing in Israel, or anywhere else in the world, which would pose a problem if he were stopped on the way to or from the hospital. And as for the hospital, he does not have the means to pay for treatment or the ability to get insurance coverage.

That is what happens when you do not exist from an administrative viewpoint: Even your car accident never took place.

"It's impossible to exercise the right to health if you have no [legal] standing," said Orly Alami, coordinator of a project run by Physicians for Human Rights in Israel to help unrecognized villages in the Negev.

Yet Eliada is one of hundreds of Negev Bedouin who have no legal standing, according to estimates by Physicians for Human Rights and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Some of them are listed in the Gaza Strip's population registry, even if they have never lived there and have no Gaza documents.

When the father of a family has no standing, he is unable to find regular work and support his family. When the mother has no standing, her children also have no standing. And the problem is increasing: Over the next few years, hundreds more Bedouin will grow up in the Negev with no documentation, no rights, no hope and no future.

The primary reason for the problem is the 1959 expulsion of the Al-Azzama tribe. After Yair Peled, an Israel Defense Forces officer, was killed near tribal lands that year, Israel expelled part of the tribe to the Sinai and Jordan, and other members fled, fearing revenge attacks. The Bedouin who went to Sinai did not receive any legal standing from the Egyptians. In 1967, some of the tribe members were allowed to return to the Negev, but were still not granted legal standing. In the 1970s and 1980s, many of the men served as trackers in the IDF. ACRI has been fighting for the Al-Azzama tribe since the mid-1990s.

Other problems include a disorderly registration process in the early years of statehood and a lack of knowledge among the Bedouin about the existence of the census, said Bana Shagri-Badarna, an ACRI attorney who has been looking into cases of Bedouin without standing since 1999. In addition, she said, some Bedouin registered but received no identification documents, and some women did not register for "cultural reasons." Oftentimes, there are families in which some siblings have legal standing in the country and others do not, or in which the parents do not have legal standing but their children do.

"The state must fix the injustice that was done to them and integrate them into Israel's working life," said Shagri-Badarna. But for now at least, the Interior Ministry has agreed to resolve only a few cases.

The spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry's population registry, Sabin Hadad, said that "anyone who was present within the borders of the State of Israel when the population census was conducted, including members of the Bedouin sector in the south, was registered in the Israeli population registry. The assumption is that those without standing entered Israel over the years, without arranging their stay legally."

Population registry officials do not consider it their job to locate those without standing. In Hadad's words: "Every person is allowed to submit an application for [legal] status, which is examined in accordance with the circumstances and the law. This is also our position regarding members of the Al-Azzama tribe."

Meanwhile, Eliada, who moved to Israel from the Sinai in 1980, at age 10, does not know whether his parents had documents or national identity cards, or where such documents might be.

Two years ago, he married a woman from the Al-Azzama tribe who has Israeli citizenship, and they have two children. Eliada has appealed to the director of the social welfare bureau for the Bedouin sector, and in late 2004, his wife sent a letter to the interior minister asking for help - but has yet to receive any.

Hadad said that a letter is not an acceptable alternative to filing an official request. Such a request, she said, "would be examined in accordance with the law and procedures."

For now, Eliada, like many Bedouin without legal standing, avoids going on the roads, in an effort to avoid checkpoints and arrest - not to mention car accidents.