Equal Shelter for All

Israel’s government must recognize that all its citizens, the Bedouin included, have equal rights.

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Bedouin houses in the Negev.
Bedouin houses in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen has discovered who is to blame for the Negev Bedouins’ lack of shelter against rocket attacks — a lack that led to the death of Auda al-Waj in an unrecognized village near Dimona and the wounding of six other Bedouin during Operation Protective Edge. During a meeting with Bedouin local council heads, Cohen suggested that the Arab Knesset members “promote the interests of the non-Jewish authorities and citizens and deal less with the Palestinian problem.”

Aside from the fact that only one current MK, Taleb Abu Arar of the United Arab List-Ta’al, is a Bedouin, Cohen is ignoring the government’s responsibility to provide all its citizens with vital services like bomb shelters, regardless of whether its sector is represented in governing bodies. The Bedouin are Israeli citizens with equal rights who are entitled to benefit from vital public services like all other citizens. At least that’s how it’s meant to be in a properly run democracy.

Abu Arar’s response to Cohen’s remarks reveals that even when elected officials try to represent their public as Cohen says they should, they are liable to encounter a brick wall.

Abu Arar said that during the war he had contacted several ministers about bomb shelters in the Bedouin villages but got nowhere. His claim is reinforced by the state’s response to a High Court of Justice petition on the matter filed by Bedouin residents and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The state argued that the residents were responsible for the own security, and the decision not to supply security solutions to the Bedouin villages was made because data showed that the rate of rocket falls in those areas was relatively low. This, even though the rate of casualties among the Bedouin from rocket fire was relatively high.

By the social-affairs minister’s logic, only religious elected officials are meant to worry about shelters for children in religious communities, only female MKs should ensure enforcement of laws against sexual harassment, and only MKs who live in Haifa should concern themselves with that city’s health services. These ridiculous examples prove how improper Cohen’s remarks are.

Notwithstanding the welcome decision to reapportion the income from municipal taxes in the Negev so that Bedouin towns will enjoy additional income after years of discrimination and exclusion, Cohen’s remarks show that the Israeli government has yet to internalize the scope of its responsibility toward the Bedouin in particular and to the country’s minorities in general.

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