Israeli Bedouin Man Charged With Polygamy

The 36-year-old married his first wife in 2002 and his second wife, who didn't know he was already married, in 2017

Bedouin women in Israel.
Eyal Toueg

The state prosecutor has charged a Bedouin resident of the Negev with polygamy on Monday, the first indictment since Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s announcement of a new law enforcement effort against such offenses in 2015.

A., 36, married his first wife in 2002. In February 2017, he asked the father of D., 24, for permission to marry her. The father agreed and informed D., who did not object to the match. She did not know that A. was already married. A. and D. applied to the Shari’a Court in Be’er Sheva to have their marriage validated and the request was approved in March.

Polygamy was already illegal, and carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but very few indictments were ever issued in practice. In August 2015, Shaked and then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced a plan to increase enforcement of the law, but no one was charged with polygamy in 2016.

Earlier this year, current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published a new directive saying that in cases with a sufficient evidentiary basis, indictments would be issued and the prosecution would seek a sentence that includes prison time. This was also meant as a warning to the public at large that polygamous unions created from this point forward would be subject to heavier enforcement.

An estimated 30 to 40 percent of Bedouin families in the Negev (out of a population of 200,000) are polygamous. The number of polygamous families has been slowly but steadily rising, not only among the Bedouin but also among Arabs in the north of the country. There are no hard statistics for the latter, but social workers report a growing number of cases of bigamy being brought to the attention of the welfare system.