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Defend the Israeli Bedouin From Gaza Rockets? Let Them Dig Trenches

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The Bedouin township of Bir Hadaj in the Negev.
The Bedouin township of Bir Hadaj in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The missiles from Gaza land in the south of the country on the heads of all the citizens, regardless of their nationality, religion or language. But the government claims that the risk that a Jewish community will be hit is greater than the risk to an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, even if they are both the same distance from the danger originating in Gaza. Therefore the Jewish communities in the south have protection, while tens of thousands of people who live in the unrecognized villages are abandoned to their fate, and all that’s left for them to do is pray that the missile won’t land near them.

The Bedouin’s fears are based on a tragic reality. During Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014, Ouda al-Waj, a Negev resident, was killed, and several other Bedouin were wounded by exploding rockets. As a result, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel submitted an urgent petition already during the course of the operation, with a demand to protect the Bedouin villages. The High Court of Justice dismissed the urgency of the appeal and continued to discuss the subject, until recently it issued a final rejection of the petition. In doing so, the High Court left tens of thousands of citizens with insufficient protection and without a genuine solution.

The Home Front Command tried to reassure the residents and provide a simple explanation to the High Court justices by means of a special plan, which included the suggestion to the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages to dig trenches by themselves; instructions to protect themselves by lying on the ground and placing their hands on their heads; and even the distribution of pocket brochures. The Home Front Command also suggested to the residents to run to the protected clinics located in the recognized Bedouin villages – a distance of several kilometers – when a siren is sounded.

The government claimed that in the areas closest to the danger from the Gaza Strip – 15-45 kilometers from the border – there are also significant disparities in the level of protection among Jewish communities. It refused to reveal the figures so that we could judge for ourselves whether or not there is discrimination. But that makes no difference, because while the government talks about “gaps in protection” among Jewish communities, we remind you that in the Bedouin communities there is no protection at all. The Bedouin don’t have permanent protected spaces, portable shelters or any other temporary means. The residents of the village can only dream about gaps in protection.

In the petition we asked for an egalitarian procedure for the construction and distribution of protected spaces and means of protection, but the court did not see fit to interfere in the professional considerations of the Home Front Command. A reading of the ruling reveals that the justices accepted the government’s viewpoint that we were unable to prove discrimination against the Bedouin. But the government has the obligation to protect the lives and safety of its citizens, it must take active steps to preserve these basic rights, and in the case of Bedouin living in unrecognized villages, it sins repeatedly.

First of all, the government refuses to recognize the villages and allow them to build legally, so that they are forced to live in substandard and temporary structures, which are more dangerous in the event a missile falls. Then it refuses to install mobile protective units for the residents, while it did install them, temporarily, for field workers and those working in the cowsheds in the Jewish communities adjacent to the unrecognized villages. When it comes to the Bedouin, the government makes do with providing information and transferring responsibility to the residents themselves.

We submitted the petition on behalf of the uncle of girls who were wounded during Operation Protective Edge, Maram and Asil Wakili, who were 10 and 13 years old at the time. Now they’re already a little older, but in the next war, too, they will be watching the sky in fear of being hit by a missile from Gaza, and no pocket brochure will console them.

The writer is a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

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