Bedouin and Settlers Unequal Before the Law

It’s not surprising that the settlers are demanding that their lawbreaking be treated the same as what they consider “Bedouin lawbreaking” when it comes to taking over land, but not when it comes to freely firing weapons

A Bedouin of the Jahalin tribe walks in his encampment near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, June 16, 2012

The action videos of masked Bedouin gangs, riding "a la Islamic State" in luxury SUVs and pickup trucks and jeeps and firing semi-automatic rifles into the air, shocked television viewers. The roads of southern Israel have become the Wild West, reporters, commentators and politicians warned. Audience choice: “wedding gunfire” or “Islamic State in our backyard.” Who knows? Tomorrow they could put up roadblocks and surround Be’er Sheva with thousands of tin shacks that will choke the Jewish communities.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked won’t let that holocaust happen. They are expected to submit a bill that would increase the maximum punishment for illegal discharge of a firearm to five years in prison. That is the only way to create a significant deterrence, Erdan said. The cabinet voted Sunday to support the initiative.

Around five years ago, Israel Harel published an op-ed on these pages in which he mocked Israel’s media, judiciary and government for caving every time Jewish settlers seized land that didn’t belong to them. “Now, change just one word in the hypothetical story: Replace ‘settlers’ with ‘Bedouin.’ All the other things written above about the theft of land, including contempt for the rulings of the Supreme Court, are truer than true,” he wrote.

Harel then proceeded to make an outrageous comparison between a bill to regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev and the “regularization law,” designed to legalize the West Bank settlement of Migron. “Israel is promoting a law that will state that the Bedouin are above the law,” he concluded, asserting that there was a double standard here.

Harel had a hard time seeing the slight difference between these two population groups. The Bedouin are Israeli citizens who live within the borders of the state. The settlers hold Israeli citizenship but live beyond the country’s recognized borders.

The Bedouin are desperately in need of paved roads and connections to the water and electricity grids. They do not benefit from lavish government funding for development. The West Bank settlers don’t know what to do with all the cash that is thrown at them. But that’s already an outmoded, banal argument.

In its current version, the comparison needs to be between the illegal use of firearms by Bedouin and settlers’ illegal use of weapons. In the space of one month, there have been 13 incidents of violent “price tag” bullying. Has Erdan spoken out about them? Does he consider them to be terror attacks?

Last month settlers near Itamar threw stones at Israeli soldiers who had come to prevent them from establishing an illegal outpost. Stones are considered a weapon, in accordance with a law passed in July 2015.

“Stone throwers are terrorists, and only appropriate punishment can serve as a deterrence and a source of punishment and justice,” Shaked declared in explaining legislation providing up to 10 years in prison for stone-throwing.

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Does any intelligent person believe that these stone throwers will be punished? A Google search of the words “settlers, gunfire, Palestinian” yields dozens of cases in which settlers have fired at Palestinians. They weren’t celebrating a wedding either.

It’s not surprising that the settlers are demanding that their lawbreaking be treated the same as what they consider “Bedouin lawbreaking” when it comes to taking over land, but not when it comes to freely firing weapons. The quest for legitimation pushes them into crazy directions in which they are even prepared in their defense to adopt the Bedouin position (but when it comes to the benefits and government funding).

It is true that both the Bedouin gunfire and the settlers’ gunfire is illegal behavior in every respect. Illegal construction is also an offense whether carried out by settlers in Ofra or by Bedouin in the Negev. But that’s where the comparison ends.

The theft of privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank has become the norm that in most cases is followed by legalization and no one is evicting Jewish settlers from state land in the West Bank as is being done with Bedouin in the Negev. And incidentally, we haven’t seen a single settler suggesting in this context that the law should apply the same treatment to settlers and Bedouin.