Bedouin Father of 56 Kids Loses Court Fight Over Three of Them

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The entrance to a conference on dealing with polygamy for Arab women in the Negev in 2015.
The entrance to a conference on dealing with polygamy for Arab women in the Negev in 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

A Be’er Sheva court this week rejected a request from an Israeli Bedouin father married to several Palestinian women to have three of his 56 children granted legal status in Israel.

Judge Alon Gabizon, deputy president of the Be’er Sheva Family Affairs Court, castigated the failure of the state and the courts to outlaw polygamy. He said the authorities inadvertently encourage the practice.

The plaintiff, an Israeli from the Negev Bedouin community, together with two of his four Palestinian wives, asked the court to rule that he was the father of three children from those two women. Altogether the man, 54, has been married to seven women and fathered 56 children.

Judge Alon Gabizon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

According to the Interior Ministry, the man was registered as married to three women simultaneously and as having 48 children. During the court debate in January this year it came out that these details were inaccurate. The man agreed to have a paternity test to establish paternity of the three children named in his court suit. He refused to undergo a paternity test for three other children who are not registered in the Interior Ministry’s Population Registration.

The state’s representative demanded expansion of the test to all the man’s children to update the registration of the family’s details.

After the judge’s request to ascertain the status of each of the plaintiff’s wives, it transpired that two of his ex-wives are Israeli citizens. Another former wife has permanent residence in Israel and his four current wives, who are Palestinian, have no legal status in Israel.

Announcing his intention to combat polygamy, the judge denied the request, analyzed the practice and blasted the failure of both civilian and criminal law enforcement authorities to prevent it. The judge also described how polygamy is allowed to take place with the authorities’ encouragement and occasionally by their turning a blind eye to it.

He also found fault with the payments these families receive from the National Insurance Institute.

The judge said the courts give a “tailwind” to polygamy. The father applies for a court declaration, the state’s representative objects and asks for a paternity test, the sides agree to take the test, the results are positive and the court grants the verdict, which is the first step to giving the children legal status in Israel and entitles the family to get National Insurance payments, he said.

“The expansion of polygamous marriages in general, and to Palestinian women in the Negev in particular, requires a reexamination of the court’s approach,” he wrote.

“The plaintiffs want the court to turn a blind eye to their criminal offenses,” the judge wrote, denying the request. He also wrote “my purpose is to fight this improper practice and spare women who haven’t married in this way yet a life of poverty and exploitation.”

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