Arab-Israelis’ economic plight ignored, especially Bedouin

Published March 22nd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Pandemonium erupted during hearings of the official Israeli judicial commission, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the shooting deaths of 13 Arab civilians, during the mass demonstrations that took place in October in and about a number of Arab-Israeli towns. During the testimony of a police officer, who claimed that he had used live bullets but wounded only one rioter in Sakhnin, distraught members of the family of one of the two men killed in the town that day attacked the witness. The session was brought to an abrupt halt. 


Leaders of the Arab community in Israel had regarded the establishment of the judicial commission of inquiry as a victory. At the outset, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak had attempted to have the matter investigated by a body of lesser stature, which would not have had the power to subpoena witnesses. But public pressure forced Barak to cave in, and instead to call for the appointment of the most powerful body of inquiry permissible according to Israeli law. However, the local Arab leadership was still critical about the mandate given the commission, inasmuch as it was limited to investigating the violence that occurred during the October riots and not the root causes of the trouble. 


Commentators note that, while the rioting in October in Israel’s Arab sector reflected Arab solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, it also was an expression of frustration caused by the political and economic predicament Israel’s Arab citizens find themselves. According to almost all the primary social and economic benchmarks, Israeli Arab’s lag behind the remainder of the country. According to Dr. Kussai Hajyehia, an Arab-Israeli specialist in Middle East studies, only 0.5 percent of government funding is allocated to serve the needs of Israel’s Arab population, which comprises almost 20 percent of Israel’s citizens. 


And at the very bottom of pile are the 140,000 Bedouin living in the Negev, the desert region in the south of the country. In terms of the ongoing commission of inquiry, this is somewhat ironic, inasmuch as almost all the violence last October occurred in north of Israel, where the economic situation is not as dire. Some 60 percent of the Bedouin in the south are classified as poor. 


Israel’s seven official Bedouin settlements generally lead the country in terms of unemployment. Rahat, the largest southern Bedouin settlement reported 13.8 percent unemployment, and at Tel Sheva, the second largest settlement, the figure was 18.6 percent. Nationally, unemployment currently is below 9 percent. The average salary in Rahat is only about 55 percent of the average salary paid in Beer Sheba, the largest Israeli city in the Negev. 


The level of education among the Bedouin is lower than anywhere else in the country. At present there are 33 elementary schools, three high schools and three vocational schools for the Bedouin community in the Negev. But a report prepared for the Israeli ministry of education in 1968 indicated that 65 percent of Bedouin do not complete 12 years of education, and only 13 percent actually receive a matriculation certificate. 


The figures are undoubtedly more severe in the non-official Bedouin settlements, for which there is no official data. In 1998, 65,000 Bedouin resided in “unrecognized” villages. As such, they received no government funding, and lacked almost all basic infrastructure and services. Generally in such settlements, there is no electricity, no running water, no schools, no paved roads and no sanitary sewage facilities. New construction is illegal—even the installation of toilets. The villagers live in constant fear of the regional building inspectors, who use aerial photographs to reveal new construction. Unsurprisingly, the majority of housing demolitions in Israel occur within the in the unrecognized villages.  


The fact that October’s riots did not spread to the south of the country surprised some, who were convinced that economic conditions in Israel’s Bedouin towns had created an environment where unrest could spread like wildfire. – (Albawaba-MEBG)

© 2001 Mena Report (

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