Tempers are running high in the Bedouin town of Kseifa more than a week after the municipal elections, with residents accusing the mayor of organizing a victory parade that led to violent brawls and arrests.
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Some parents are keeping their children off school for fear of further violence.
A day after the October 22 election, Mayor Salem Abua Rabia - who was reelected for a third term, with 51 percent of the vote - organized a parade through the desert town in southern Israel, with horses, camels, bulldozers and all-terrain vehicles. A fight broke out between supporters and opponents of the mayor. The police intervened and arrested 10 people, three of them minors. One of those arrested was charged with trying to run over a police officer.
“It was a violent show of force,” said Mohammad Nassarra, a member of a local parents’ committee. “The head of the council brought in criminals to walk around the town. There were gunshots and violence, and we decided to shut down the schools until order was restored. There are also rivalries among the pupils, and we had to do something before someone got murdered.”
The schools aren’t officially closed but some parents are refusing to send their children to classes fearing violence and in order to register their protest. A third of the students at Al-Farouk High School haven’t returned to studies.
“Many heads of clans believed that their children would be put at risk due to the intervention of many elements in an unending battle,” said Khalil al-Amor, of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. “Despite holding a reconciliation ceremony [Sulha], it seems the tension is still high, and there are still violent confrontations.”
Like at some other Bedouin regional councils, many residents of Kseifa are registered with the council and receive education and health services, despite living in villages that are sometimes many miles away. Some Kseifa residents argue that Abu Rabia used these votes to win the election.
“The villagers that supported Abu Rabia became a majority,” claims Nassarra. “They control the council but do not handle Kseifa’s problems. Opposition candidates fail to gain enough power. The state must intervene in Kseifa. Our voice must be heard before someone gets murdered.”
In response, a Kseifa council spokesperson said, “The day after the election, there was a fight initiated by those who lost the election and which interfered with the mayor’s parade. There was, indeed, a one-day shutdown of schools, but educational institutions have been functioning regularly ever since.”