Israel Election 2019: Volunteers Drive Bedouin Women to Polls After NGO Blocked From Providing Transportation

Activists from right-wing group document volunteers’ work in unrecognized villages, accuse ‘extreme leftists’ of ‘physical violence’ against them

Women from unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev wait at a polling station in Tel Sheva in southern Israel, September 17, 2019.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Dozens of women in off-road vehicles came to unrecognized villages in the Negev in Israel’s south on Tuesday morning to drive Bedouin women to the polls, in what they said was volunteer activity. On Sunday Central Elections Committee chief Justice Hanan Melcer ruled a similar project planned by the nongovernmental organization Zazim as illegal.

The right-wing group Im Tirtzu filed a petition Tuesday against Zazim for what said was a breach of Melcer’s order. Melcer said that if Zazim was indeed behind the transportation, it had to immediately cease the transportation efforts, but Zazim denied any involvement.

Earlier this week Melcer instructed Zazim to register as an “active election body” in the State Comptroller’s Office as a condition for operating its project of offering rides to the polling station. However, Zazim decided not to go forward with the project because registering as an such a body would restrict its fundraising activities.

Im Tirtzu activists came to unrecognized Bedouin villages on Tuesday morning to document the volunteer drivers. They claimed that “extreme leftists” had used “physical violence” against its members. The right-wing group then turned to the Central Elections Committee to stop what they claimed were Zazim’s activities. “No one will steal the election from Israel’s citizens again,” said Im Tirtzu’s lawyer, Ziv Maor.

Zazim responded: “We found ourselves over the past few hours in an absurd situation in which we received a restraining order for something that didn’t happen.” Zazim added that although it had shelved its rides project because of the restraining order, “we were excited to learn about dozens of private citizens who acted independently and in solidarity with the residents of the unrecognized villages.”

According to women who took part in the volunteer transportation efforts, hundreds of Bedouin women were given rides to polling stations. Only female drivers participated because it is culturally unacceptable for the women from the villages to ride in a car with a male stranger. Niva Segev, a volunteer from Kibbutz Be’eri, said: “I’m glad for the opportunity I was given and the fact that despite the attempt to stop the rides for people who have no access to public transportation, it wasn’t completely canceled and we’re here anyhow.”

It takes an hour to reach the closest polling place from the unrecognized village of al-Garrah. Naif Batihat, one of the residents, said that he helped people find their polling station in the last election because the village does not get mail delivery and eligible voters were not able not receive a printed notice.