Firefighters Barred From Entering Bedouin Towns Without Police Escort

Decision comes after a fire engine was attacked Tuesday in Bedouin community of Segev Shalom and one firefighter was injured.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Firefighters will no longer enter Bedouin communities in the Negev without a police escort, according to an announcement Wednesday by Eli Peretz, commander of the Negev region of the Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

The announcement follows an attack on firefighters in the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom, near Be’er Sheva, on Tuesday night. One of the firefighters, who had been called in to deal with a reported fire, suffered light injuries in the incident and a fire engine was damaged.

The procedure until now was for the fire services in the Negev to immediately notify the police of every fire reported in a Bedouin community, in order for a police escort to be sent to the scene. But it was up to the the commander of the firefighters on the scene to decide whether to proceed to the site of the fire unescorted if they arrived before the police did.

In terms of the new regulations, firefighters will wait for the police escort in every incident in a Bedouin town, regardless of the seriousness of the event. The regulations will be in effect until further notice.

In the Segev Shalom incident, firefighters were called in at around 1 A.M yesterday morning to deal with a reported car fire. However, they left the scene after stones were thrown at them at the entrance to the town.

“It was a miracle that the firefighters on the fire engine were saved," the Fire Services spokesman said. "The unit commander made a quick decision and took an unpaved path while rocks were being thrown at them, endangering their lives.”

A team of firefighters from the Be’er Sheva fire station with a police escort subsequently put out the fire, which was probably caused by an electrical short in a sign on a building in the town. No car was involved.

The fire service has lodged a complaint with the police.

Even though similar incidents have occurred in Bedouin communities in the past, yesterday's incident was more serious and involved a life threatening situation for the firefighters, the spokesman said.

Moshe Suissa, commander of the Fire Services Southern District, said the fire engine was hit by a volley of large rocks at the entrance to the town, hitting both the driver and the firefighter sitting next to him and injuring the latter.

“We come to rescue, and we want to enter is a normal manner," Suissa said. "But if they throw rocks at us and endanger the lives of firefighters, then of course we will continue to [require a police escort].”