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Bennett, 'Observing' Bedouin Like Safari Animals Won't Fix Crime

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's visit to the Negev, along with an entourage of ministers, perfectly demonstrated how Israel views its Arab citizens as security threats instead of citizens that need help

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai inspect confiscated arms near Rahat, on Monday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai inspect confiscated arms near Rahat, on Monday.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash 90

Sometimes it is the seemingly most banal texts that reveal the deepest truths. Such was Prime Minister Bennett’s itinerary, sent to the press on Sunday evening and dryly describing his schedule for the next day:

10:00 A.M. – meeting with local municipal leaders in the south, at Be’er Sheva city hall (will be documented by official photographers only)

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12:15 P.M. – visit to an observation point in the city of Rahat, including operational debriefing

That's it. But oh, how much one can learn from it about life in Israel, 2021, as correctly diagnosed on Twitter by Mohammad Magadli. To Be’er Sheva’s city hall the government is willing to come in person (and even deigns to invite some model Arab municipal leaders, 4 out of the twelve there) – while the Bedouin citizens of the country are “observed” from a nearby hill, as though they were safari animals.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Police chief Kobi Shabtai and ministers, on Monday.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash 90

Of course “only official photographers” were invited to the city hall powwow, lest journalists hear the criticism hurled at the government there. And of course the “observation” of the Arabs in Rahat included an “operational debriefing,” as the Arabs are forever a security problem, and there has yet to be a problem Israeli governments haven’t tried to solve first by force and then by some more force.

The event itself went accordingly: A muddle of verbiage and photos from Bennett’s office meant to project that this is a security issue, and not – heaven forbid – a civilian issue. “We’re switching from defense to offense,” against “militias that operate like in the wild west,” declared General Bennett, standing on a hill, his picture taken pointing with martial resolution at the horizon, scanning a host of confiscated weapons laid there in his honor on display (pathos courtesy of the official photographer.)

In general, it seems that Israeli police have recently mainly become producers of arms exhibits – images of which are disseminated twice a week to prove it’s fighting crime. Arab men and women continue to be murdered almost daily, but hey, look, lots of weapons on display.

The entire tour was actually described as “a tour of the south of the country, as part of the project to fight crime and Arab violence in the area.” But it didn’t seem as though Bennett had any interest in the violence and crime harming Arabs themselves, but as he told the municipal leaders in Be’er Sheva, he came mainly to demonstrate “governance” in the area, and that you do from afar, from the high point lookout, and not in actual conversations with citizens.

Accompanying Bennett on this strange lookout of Rahat were also the Justice Minister, the Interior Minister, the Public Security Minister, the Minister in the Finance Ministry, the Welfare Minister, the Deputy Public Security Minister, and police brass.

All gleefully adopted the military lingo. Outdoing them all was Ayelet Shaked, as usual quick to lay the racist cards on the table: “After years of a freeze, we’ll finally start building new Jewish towns in the Negev,” she said.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during the tour of Israel's south, on Monday.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash 90

Only Labor Minister Meir Cohen bothered to mutter something about the Bedouins being citizens of the state – and not the enemy to be vanquished. “It is our duty to understand that the Bedouins are Israeli citizens, and we are responsible for their welfare and health, and that’s where we’re going from a place of respectful discourse to revolutionize these localities,” he said. Left to be determined: How does one effect such a revolution from a hilltop? Perhaps the plan is to airdrop some health and welfare.

Bennett, Shabtai and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen overlooking confiscated arms.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash 90

Israeli governments are in love with military lingo. Every pandemic has to be “defeated,” and every social problem is a “war.” Entire communities are neglected as though they were autonomous – not just among the Arabs, but also the ultra-Orthodox – and then, when there’s no “governability,” and lawlessness runs wild, there’s nothing left to do but send in special forces.

Bedouin society in the Negev doesn’t have proper representation in the state’s institutions today, including the Knesset, and it ranks at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. What is needed in this case, as in the struggle against crime in Arab society at large, is a holistic solution and for the government to accept responsibility for the decades-long neglect.

In such a process the Bedouin leadership must be an equal partner, and not the enemy. We need a real dialogue between Jews and Arabs in the Negev, and we must understand the viewpoint of law-abiding Bedouin citizens who are also victimized by the situations. But you can’t do all that from the lookout. All you can get there is a photo-op.

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