The Undocumented / Fifth in a Series - Bedouin Trackers: Israeli Enough for the IDF, but Not for an ID Card

Shtewi Srahin lives in a tent in the unrecognized Bedouin village Wadi Al-Naam. Not in his own tent, but in a shik - the guest tent of family member Salim Srahin. Sixty-year-old Shtewi was employed between the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars as a scout in the Israeli army. Today he is disabled, unable to stand or walk. Most of the time, he lies curled up on blankets in the tent. When he wants to get around the tent, he drags himself on his arms. Five years ago, Shtewi Srahin fell from a camel and hurt his back. Since then his situation has deteriorated and his world has shrunk to just the shik.

Despite having served as an army scout, Srahin has no civilian Israeli status. So he has no health insurance, and he only receives occasional medical attention from expensive private doctors. A year and half ago, he was hospitalized. The admitting papers state that all communication was through a translator and even so it was difficult to understand Srahin. "There is no information on the patient in any computer or other source. There is no medical history or information on regular medications. According to him, he was never hospitalized before - a private doctor occasionally administers injections - he doesn't know which ones. Not under regular medical care," the papers state.

Diab Abu Apish, a resident of Wadi Al-Naam who served as translator says, "He lives here in the tent. It is like waiting to die every minute. You live to die, there is nothing new, there is nothing. He never leaves, lives here." I ask why he doesn't have a wheelchair. They tell me that the family that puts him up in the shik lives off an income supplement and cannot afford it.

Like many members of the Azazma tribe, Srahin has lived most of his life in Avdat, near Mitzpe Ramon, but he served as a scout in Sinai. When Sinai was returned to Egypt in the early 1980s, he stayed there. In 1999, he participated in the big Azazma tribe attempt to sneak from Sinai into Israel. Eight hundred of them were deported. A few dozen who could prove that they or their families had been associated with the IDF were allowed to stay, but were given no status. In other words, they were allowed to be illegals..

Attorney Bana Shgari-Bedarna of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote to then-interior minister Avraham Poraz in November 2003 that some tribe members did not receive any civil status in the early years of the state due to "bureaucratic failures and irregularities."

Srahin is one of dozens of Azazma former scouts who served in or worked for the army in the 1970s. Not only do they receive no pension or aid from the military, they don't have Israeli identity cards, they don't have health insurance, they don't get National Insurance stipends. Many of them are illiterate and many of their children do not attend school. They are like the "Bedouin SLA."

They may not have put their lives on the line on a daily basis like soldiers in the South Lebanon Army, but they were Israeli enough for the IDF. Just not Israeli enough to get identity cards.

Unlike Shtewi Srahin, few of them later lived in Sinai, most stayed here - but the state still doesn't recognize them. Some of them have Gaza identity papers although they have never been in the Strip. The papers don't entitle them to any rights in Israel, but do identify them, which is something in and of itself. Without an identity card, even a Gaza card, it is impossible to request an Israeli identity card.

Attorney Dana Alexander of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the Interior Ministry for seven Azazma tribe members, including former scouts. According to Shgari-Bedarna, "The circumstances of many of this group's members not being registered, their deportation, their return and their military service only reinforces the state's obligation to right the injustice done to them and integrate them into the Israeli workforce and society."

The scouts are older and tired, close to 60 years of age. The people I spoke with haven't tried to get status for several years - anyway, they don't know the language, they can't read the forms and they don't understand the rules.

Every Bedouin seeking status has a worn bag of documents, that in some way is his entire world. For some, the most important document is the receipt for filing a petition for residency. The petition was rejected, but the receipt testifies that they exist.

For the former scouts, the most important document is the letter of recommendation from their former commander, more than thirty years old, disintegrating at the folds. In 58-year-old Salem Srahin's letter, the scout unit commander, a captain whose name is no longer legible, confirms that "the above serves as a scout in the IDF and contributed greatly to security in the Sinai sector."

"I can't go anywhere," the former scout relates. "I have no pension, no NII stipend." He has three daughters who also have no status. Two petitions for family reunification have been rejected by the Be'er Sheva Population Registry.