The head of the Bedouin municipality of Segev Shalom, Amar Abu Muamar, did me the honor of celebrating my 90th birthday at his home, in the presence of Rahat Mayor Talal al-Krenawi and many other Bedouin dignitaries from the Negev and the Galilee, and Bedouin veterans who served in the Israel Defense Forces. It was a chance to get reacquainted with what’s happening with the Bedouin in the Negev – and it was an eye-opener.
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Amar Abu Muamar is the son of the legendary Sheikh Ouda Abu Muamar, the late leader of the Azazme tribe and a longtime friend of Israel. The population of Segev Shalom comprises members from the Azazme and Tarabin tribes.
The head of the local municipality is doing a splendid job guiding the young townsfolk – as well as those from the surrounding area – toward better education and integration into Israeli society.
But it seems like a cry in the wilderness. He is not getting the budgetary support he needs from the government, while fighting a rearguard defense against the inroads being made by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
Many teachers in the local schools have been brought in from the north and are adherents of the Islamic Movement. They preach hatred of Israel and denounce volunteering for military service, and have already succeeded in drastically decreasing the number of Bedouin from the Negev who volunteer for service in the IDF.
The army continues to be the primary path for the integration of young Bedouin into Israeli society, while simultaneously providing career opportunities. The success of the Islamic Movement is a defeat for Israel.
Another path offering integration into, and contributing to, Israeli society is civilian national service. I was surprised to hear that the number of Bedouin youngsters who wish to participate in this area is considerably larger than the available openings.
I had assumed that whoever wished to volunteer for national service would be welcomed with open arms – but this is not the case. Only a limited number of openings are made available to Bedouin youngsters from the Negev. This is a situation that needs to be corrected.
Another problem is higher education. There is a commendable desire for academic education. But many Bedouin youngsters find that Israeli academic education – universities and colleges – are beyond their reach. The entrance requirements are not compatible with the level of high-school education most of them receive.
As a result, many choose to pursue their academic education in Palestinian universities – like the College of Islamic Studies in Hebron and Bir Zeit University – that have far easier entrance requirements, and where tuition fees are considerably lower than at Israeli academic institutions. Obviously, they are not being taught love of Israel there.
This is no way to prepare them for life in Israel. What we need are special preparatory courses for Bedouin high-school graduates, which will prepare them for admission to Israel’s academic institutions. Here is a challenge for the Education Ministry.
All of this requires funding. In Segev Shalom, they hope that the recent government decision to allocate large sums to Israel’s Arab community will also reach them and help alleviate the many problems that they face.
The best indicator of the degree of adjustment of the Negev Bedouin to modern Israel and their integration into Israeli society is the annual number of volunteers for the IDF. Here, recent years have brought only bad news. Reversing this negative trend is a challenge for the IDF and the Defense Ministry. Bedouin who have served as officers in the IDF may well be the future leaders of the Bedouin population in the Negev.
The problems to be found in Segev Shalom are no doubt typical of the problems facing most Bedouin in the Negev. Hopefully, Amar Abu Muamar is typical of Bedouin leadership in the region.
Government ministers should take the time to visit Segev Shalom and learn how to deal with a major challenge facing Israel at this time.