Bedouins are tribal, nomadic Arabs, tracing their ancestry to the Arabian peninsula, who today live all over the Middle East and North Africa. Today there are at least 200,000 Bedouins in Israel, and the population is growing rapidly. They are Israeli citizens with full political and civil rights.
Historically they fed themselves primarily by herding animals and other forms of nomadic agriculture and fishing. Some were bandits, raiding the caravans that passed through their region, and taxing non-Bedouin tribes in the vicinity. Over the years they have become more settled, with many of them living in towns and cities. But there still are some who follow traditional nomadic ways.
Bedouins are mostly Muslim Arabs, but most do not see themselves as “Palestinians.” Their political identification is with their (large) extended families and tribes. Tribes have supported whichever side in the conflict benefits them. Some volunteer for the IDF. There is a Bedouin (Ismail Khaldi) who served as Israeli Consul in San Francisco, and who has been chosen to become Ambassador to Eritrea.
Recently there has been a disturbing trend in which some Bedouins have returned to banditry as a way to make a living.
Everything that is not nailed down in IDF bases like Tze’elim in the Negev, including large quantities of weapons, ammunition, night vision equipment, vehicles, uniforms, and even soldiers’ kitbags is stolen by Bedouin thieves. The loot finds its way into the hands of Jewish and Arab criminals in Israel and in the territories, as well as terrorists. Rules of engagement only permit soldiers to use their weapons (even to fire in the air as part of the “procedure to apprehend a suspect”) if they think there may be immediate danger to life. Theft, even of weapons and ammunition, is not an acceptable reason.
This has been going on for decades, although the scale of it has recently expanded to a massive degree. When I did reserve duty guarding southern airbases during the 1980s, it was already a problem. When my son was part of a large training exercise ten years ago, Bedouins stuck close to IDF soldiers during live fire exercises, sweeping up shell casings and stealing anything they could. Over time it has taken on an ideological character. In an interview (Hebrew) with an Israeli website, one thief said “…all the firing ranges of Tze’elim belong to us. The state stole our land, expelled us. We are stealing back what belongs to us.”
The criminals are becoming bolder all the time, stealing cars in broad daylight and breaking into homes. Recently a 70-year old man, Aryeh Schiff of the Negev town of Arad, was indicted for manslaughter after shooting a thief who was driving away in his car. According to his family, Schiff had already had several cars stolen. In a particularly horrible episode, three Bedouin burglars broke into a home and raped a 10-year old girl while her parents slept. They have been arrested, but the punishment will not fit the crime. It rarely does.
These incidents are not part of the organized Palestinian war against the Jewish state. But they are not just apolitical crime either. The unrelenting propaganda from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Left, which accuses Israel of stealing “Palestinian land,” oppressing and murdering Palestinians, even to the point of genocide, finds its mark among Bedouins and other Arab citizens of Israel. One man’s crime is another man’s jihad.
There are also cultural differences that are difficult to overcome. Bedouins practice polygamy, for example, which is illegal in Israel, although the state has almost always ignored it. It is usually bad for the women (the men tend to live with their newest, youngest, wife and leave the older ones to take care of their children), and there is pressure to enforce the law.
The Palestinians and their sponsors, the European Union, have found it possible to make use of Bedouins to create incidents in which Israel plays the role assigned to it, the powerful colonialist oppressor of third-world people. For example, there is Khirbet Humsah, a shepherding encampment squatting (even the left-leaning Israeli Supreme Court agrees) on an IDF firing range, which has been dismantled several times and rebuilt as many, thanks to the assistance of the EU.
Of course the most celebrated Bedouin settlement is Khan al-Ahmar, built illegally at a strategic location next to main roads in Area C (the part of Judea/Samaria that is supposed to be under full Israeli security and civil control according to the Oslo Accords). Here is how Regavim, an organization dedicated to Israeli sovereignty, describes it:
Khan al-Ahmar is one of more than 170 illegal outposts created by the P.A. and funded by the European Union for the sole purpose of establishing a corridor of P.A.-controlled territory disconnecting Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. These outposts are populated by the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and easily manipulated Bedouin families, stateless pawns in the P.A.’s power play, and follow a very simple, very predictable pattern of development.
First, the P.A. places water tankers at strategic points: along major Israeli highways, on land belonging to or abutting existing Jewish communities, or along lines that create territorial contiguity between major Arab population clusters in Areas A and B of Judea and Samaria. Knowing that Bedouin require little more than a steady supply of water to congregate and remain in any particular spot in this arid region, the P.A. thus attracts the tribes to strategic locations, even when those locations pose serious hazards to the health and livelihood of the Bedouin.
The next step is the construction of a school. This, too, attracts population—and makes for devastating publicity if Israel’s Civil Administration knocks it down. From this point, the battle of narratives begins. The “village” quickly rises up, constructed almost entirely of prefab housing units bearing the symbol of the European Union. It is given a name and equipped with a fictitious history. An army of internationally financed “do-gooders” takes up the cause of the unfortunate Bedouin who are “threatened” with relocation by the Israeli authorities—to new, modern neighborhoods on Israeli state-owned land, along with cash payouts and other forms of compensation.
The P.A., the European Union and a host of “humanitarian aid” groups take to the High Court of Justice to block any and all compromise solutions, forcing the helpless Bedouin to remain in unbearable conditions in the illegal outposts, in the service of the P.A.’s geopolitical machinations.
Bedouins, like Jews (and unlike most Palestinians), are an indigenous people in parts of Eretz Yisrael. Will it be possible for us to coexist? And if not, then what?
This a most informative piece and explains a situation I have heard referred to often and never really understood. I wonder if there are policy goals which the government of Israel has in order to properly deal with the problem.