Marginalization Fuels Rise in Politically Motivated Crimes Among Bedouins, Israeli Security Officials Fear

Rise in arrests opposite to downturn in security related charges among Israeli Arab public in general

Two Bedouin men watch their houses being demolished in the village of Umm al-Hiran, in 2017.
Eliyahu Hershovitz

Security officials have seen an increase in the commission of politically-motivated crimes among the country’s Bedouin community that contrasts with a decline in the rate of such crimes among Israel's Arab population as a whole.

While Israeli Arabs have generally been seeking to integrate into Israeli society, the marginalization of Bedouin communities has led some Bedouin to affiliate with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and even the Islamic State

After a resident of the Bedouin town of Rahat was charged this month with planning an attack on the hotel where he worked, the Shin Bet security service took the unusual step of expressing major concern over “the involvement of Israeli citizens in terror attacks, influenced by Hamas propaganda on social media and in the Palestinian media.”

Although the security agency did not explicitly say so, the reference was apparently to members of the Bedouin community, who have been increasingly involved in such crimes in recent years. By contrast, the involvement of non-Bedouin Israeli Arabs has been on the decline.

The Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in 2018.
Ilan Assayag

A high-ranking police official said the younger generation of the country's Arab community as a whole is becoming more Israeli in their identity. “More and more young Arabs want to live in Israel and accept it,” he said.

Another senior security source said Israeli Arabs want to achieve the same quality of life as Israeli Jews. Contrasting expectations in the northern Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm and the Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus, the official said: "A guy from Umm al-Fahm doesn’t compare himself to his peers in Nablus and feel rich. He feels frustrated about his standard of living compared to [the Jewish Tel Aviv suburbs of] Ra’anana and Kfar Saba.” 

During the surge in violence in 2015 that was dubbed the “knife intifada,” a number of Israeli Arabs carried out lone-wolf attacks with knives, guns and motor vehicles. There were also increasing numbers of Israeli Arabs who identified with the Islamic State, including some who said they would be willing to join the ranks of the organization in Syria. That year, 32 of them went to Syria and seven were killed.

Israeli authorities arrested 120 Arab citizens on suspicion of terrorism in 2015, but the figure fell to around 100 per year in 2016 and 2017 and declined further in 2018. Security officials attribute the drop the acceptance by young Israeli Arabs of Israel's authority, along with a desire to improve their standard of living.

Opposite trend among Bedouin

But the trend among Israeli Bedouin has been the opposite. Security officials have had difficulty providing reliable statistics on Bedouin involvement in such crimes, but they said there was a major increase in the number of Bedouin arrested and charged in terrorism-related incidents between 2013 and 2017.

Some security sources speculated that the intensifying support for terrorist organizations is related to a failure by the government to deal with the community's social problems. Tensions with the authorities came to a head last year with plans to demolish the unauthorized Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran. 

The community is not well-integrated into Israeli society. Many don’t speak Hebrew and more than 5,000 Bedouin children are not attending school. Unable to get into Israeli universities in large numbers, many also seek a higher education in the West Bank, which tends to intensify their hostility to Israel.