Israel’s Modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah

The Bedouin town of Lakiya is hugely corrupt and dysfunctional. The state doesn’t seem to care

The Bedouin town of Lakiya in southern Israel.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Sliman and Aziza Albaridi, both 37, were murdered in their car August 1 in a drive-by shooting in the Negev Bedouin town of Lakiya. Their 8-year-old son who was with them in the car witnessed his parents’ shooting but survived. Police say the only reason the couple was targeted is because they belong to one of two clans that have been feuding with each over a murder that occurred a year ago.

The murder occurred less than a month after the state comptroller released his report on the Lakiya local authority. The report was one of the most damning the office has ever published, portraying the town as something like a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

Yet, like the brutal murder of Sliman and Aziza Albaridi, the report had a short shelf life as far as the Israeli public is concerned.

Lakiya is one of the best known Bedouin towns in Israel, with 14,000 official residents and another 4,000 who aren’t recognized by the government as living there but who get municipal services anyhow. It sits at the bottom of the national socioeconomic rankings.

>> A state of emergency in Arab towns | Editorial

The picture of Lakiya drawn from the data of the state comptroller’s report are so outrageous that a reader is left wondering whether to laugh or cry. It’s not that the town has no parks or playgrounds – it has no infrastructure at all to speak of, no sidewalks and barely any streets.

The few public facilities there are have been the victims of corruption. For instance, the town’s lone sports center, which was renovated with a grant from the Housing Ministry, immediately fell to ruin after the work was completed. Photos in the comptroller’s report show seats ripped out of their places, toilets broken into pieces and ceilings coming down,

A newly constructed preschool building was razed to its foundations before the school year began. Temporary classroom buildings erected adjacent to a school were torched.

The local authority never took the trouble to inform the police of the vandalism or to hire security guards to prevent more damage. To be more precise, the authority did hire a security company but no guards were ever assigned. It seems the payments were a kind of protection money officials paid to several local families.

The criminal negligence doesn’t end there. The state comptroller found that Lakiya residents were taking electricity and water from municipal schools and preschools. The practice was so widespread that a fifth of the local authority’s budget is being spent on electricity, yet it never did a thing to stop it.

>> Police bolster patrols in Lod to address city's crime spike

The authority is so negligent that it has no records on what businesses operate inside its municipal lines. It issues no business licenses and collects no taxes from them.

The state comptroller tried to figure out how many businesses exist in Lakiya and came up with an estimate of 130 to 140, only two of which were registered under the law. The rest never received a notification that they are operating illegally, much less ever face a tax bill or lawsuit.

In fact, the town never got approval to impose taxes or fees on business. The only tax it’s authorized to collect is arnona (property and municipal taxes) and the local authority’s collection record is poor.

The state comptroller makes clear that most of the local authority’s problems aren’t due to incompetence or lack of resources. Officials choose not to collect taxes and on the occasions when they do, it’s only to squeeze money out of a clan to which the mayor doesn’t belong.

If Lakiya had been a Jewish municipality without infrastructure, public institutions or tax collection, its mayor would have been voted out a long time ago and the police’s Lahav 433 would have raided its offices and detained officials.

The Israeli government is trying to convince more than 100,000 Negev Bedouin living in unrecognized villages to move to authorized settlements. But when it comes to what is happening in this recognized town, the state turns a blind eye. Time after time the Interior Ministry signed on a recovery program for Lakiya, local officials ignored it and the ministry didn’t protest.

The sad thing is that the government has tried to help, providing 92 million shekels ($26.2 million) in added budget funds. But Lakiya has managed to use only 55 percent of this largesse.

In the framework of a five-year program to help the Bedouin, the state has allocated 700 million shekels to improve local government. But in the 2017-18 year, only 7 million of the 150 million shekels budgeted was actually put to use.

What’s behind this horrific record? One is the traditional practice of allocating jobs by clan rather than by a candidate’s skills, training or abilities. The public is apathetic and doesn’t demand accountability. For years the government ignored the problem.

There’s also a skills shortage. Although Negev Bedouin have jobs in local government, none of them work in the real corridors of power in Jerusalem. Even though there are a quarter of a million Negev Bedouin, none of them have ever been deemed qualified to join a government-sponsored leadership program.

“The truth is no one cares about Bedouin society,” says one official speaking on condition of anonymity. “We don’t care about illegal weapons, about murders in the streets, about polygamy, the school system and the garbage everywhere.

“As long as the problem stays inside the community and doesn’t impinge on the Jewish majority, everyone closes their eyes. When we try to help we find that all the Bedouin apples are rotten – there’s no one to work with.”