Discrimination in Life and Death

Regrettably, Sunday's deaths of five IDF soldiers from the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion in Rafah does not symbolize the common destiny and integration of Bedouin in Israeli society, but rather the contrary.

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Regrettably, Sunday's deaths of five IDF soldiers from the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion in Rafah does not symbolize the common destiny and integration of Bedouin in Israeli society, but rather the contrary. From the reactions of the families to their deaths, including the refusal of four of the families to have their sons buried in military funerals, one can understand that there are a lot of reservations about enlisting in the army in their communities.

Yusuf Jahaja, father of Sgt. Sa'id Jahaja, was the only one who agreed that his son be buried in a military ceremony - but he asked to cover the Israeli flag on the coffin with a blanket. He said that in the eyes of many his son was perceived as a collaborator and even a traitor, but that his son regarded army service as a way to get ahead in life, and Yusuf agreed.

Sa'id, who was killed in Rafah, was an Arab Muslim from the village of Arara. He served in the battalion known as the "Bedouin Battalion" even though he was not a Bedouin, which raises the question of whether there is not something problematic in the formation of battalions made up of people from one sector of society, particularly a sector that suffers from discrimination, and whether the assignments and missions given to such a unit are not derived from the social status of the soldiers who serve in it.

The Desert Reconnaissance Battalion, for example, which is mostly comprised of Bedouin, has spent the last four years in the line of fire in Rafah, while other soldiers serving on the front lines are in rotation, not permanently positioned there.

The Desert Reconnaissance Battalion accepts into its ranks Bedouin, Arabs and Muslims who are not obliged to enlist. Service in the unit is a way for young people to escape the economic crisis in which they live at home. Sometimes it is the only way they can get a steady job. The need to risk their lives just to earn a livelihood is also discomforting, especially considering just how much the Bedouin suffer from discrimination against them in budgets and infrastructure for their communities.

Israeli society's ability to only remember the Bedouin when one of them is killed during IDF service is regrettable. The basic civil rights of a citizen in his state should not have to depend on anything other than the fact of his citizenship. Various organizations have warned over the years about the crisis in Bedouin society, and just recently there was a detailed report from Physicians for Human Rights on the shameful state of the health of Bedouin in the unrecognized villages. But even though this is all well-known, no Israeli government has ever made time to conduct the revolution needed in the state's attitude toward the Bedouin.

In recent years there has been growing opposition to military service among Bedouin. That opposition is not only the result of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians (even though there are Bedouin who have found themselves fighting relatives from their clan in Rafah), but also because they are the subject of discrimination in Israeli society to the point that even service in the IDF won't launch them into a better life.

On the other hand, the levels of unemployment among Bedouin, now at 30 percent, does not leave them much choice. The deaths of the soldiers from the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion leaves a bad feeling about a unit suffering from alienation and discrimination, with those serving in it volunteering to risk their lives just so they can live as human beings.



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