Discrimination and Neglect Pushing Youth to ISIS, Some Bedouin Say

Residents of Hura fear right-wing extremists will tar their entire community, even though there are only a 'handful' of youngsters reportedly involved with Islamist group.

The Bedouin village of Hura, in the Negev.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Residents of the Bedouin village of Hura have denounced members of the community who became involved with the Islamic State group, as reported by Haaretz on Wednesday. However, while noting that these were isolated incidents, some villagers said Israel’s policy of discrimination against the Bedouin had triggered the youngsters’ actions.

The residents of the Negev village are more concerned that far-right groups in Israel will use the reports to spread further incitement against the Bedouin community as a whole, without looking for the roots of the problem.

Some believe the reasons for these “wild weeds” – as they call the youngsters who have ties with ISIS – are Israel’s ongoing neglect and discrimination against the Bedouin community. Unemployment and economic distress are rife, many of the villages are unrecognized and many Bedouin are dispossessed and under threat of displacement, they say.

Attorney Shahda Ibn Bari, a Bedouin activist, sees Israel’s policy toward the Bedouin as “fertile ground” for sprouting radical ideology. “It’s regrettable that the Bedouin population is seen in a sweeping way, without analyzing the roots of the radicalization and socioeconomic rift between the Bedouin and Jewish communities,” he said.

“Radicalization doesn’t come from nowhere,” he continued. “The Negev Bedouin are under attack from incitement, their homes are being demolished, their communities displaced. The ongoing neglect and lack of housing or social solutions can grow these ‘wild weeds.’”

Ibn Bari said the Bedouin community needed the same fostering and care from the authorities as the Jewish population. “There’s a discourse based on ideas from the Middle East and we’re part of the same region, so the cheapness of human life penetrates to us as well,” he said. “On the other hand, these assumptions should not be used to incite against the entire Arab Bedouin community – most of which is law abiding, despite the government’s oppression and discrimination.”

Ibn Bari warned that making sweeping conclusions about the Bedouin population would only encourage rightist groups, which systematically incite against the Bedouin and blame them for all the government’s shortcomings.

“Clearly, every case of violence must be denounced and the authorities must act against lawbreakers – but within the law and not on the basis of politically motivated rumors,” he said.

Villager Ibrahim Asibi said that because the number of Hura residents suspected of ties with the Islamic State was so minute, any attempt to excuse those involved would do the village an injustice.

As a driving teacher in Be’er Sheva and owner of a clothes store, Asibi said he has conducted many talks with Bedouin youngsters. “I see no radicalization in Hura: in fact, the opposite is true – there’s a process of secularization,” he noted.

Asibi rejected the possibility of extenuating circumstances for any Bedouin choosing to get involved with ISIS. “Since the Prawer Plan [a government plan to relocate nearly 30,000 Bedouin to recognized communities in the Negev], the Bedouin see anything that happens to them as stemming from neglect. It’s not that there isn’t neglect or bitterness, there is. But these things are not a trigger to [join ISIS],” he said.

Asibi added that the reports of Bedouin joining ISIS served to demonize the entire population. “Even if you take all the cases in which Bedouin were suspected of joining ISIS, it comes down to a certain family living in a very specific area. We take a cynical, ironic view of the link the media makes between Negev Bedouin and ISIS. We laugh at how simplistic it is,” he added.

However, he admitted being frightened by the reports – not because they were true but because of their possible effect. “A young Bedouin from Hura who sees the association the media makes, the alleged trend they’re trying to show, could get ideas,” he warned.

Jack Khoury contributed to this report.