Israel Police add insult to injury by blaming the Bedouin victim

The false ISIS accusation against Yakub Abu al-Kiyan compounded the first injury: the destruction of the homes of Bedouin families who had been living at one site for many years.

By Moshe Arens

Gilad Erdan, the public security minister, announced that an apology would be issued if the Justice Ministry’s investigators determined that Yakub Abu al-Kiyan did not deliberately ram his car into the police during the destruction of the Bedouin homes at Umm al-Hiran. Already clear is that the accusations subsequently leveled against him that he was a supporter of the Islamic State were completely unfounded.

It was a Pavlovian reaction that sees terrorism behind any incident whose cause is at first unknown and immediately puts the blame on the Arabs. That’s what happened after the recent forest fires, which many people blamed on Palestinian terrorists rather than the forces of nature, even before the fires’ cause had been investigated.

The accusation against Abu al-Kiyan added insult to injury. The injury was the destruction of the homes of the Bedouin families who had been living in Umm al-Hiran for many years and had been moved to that location by order of the Israeli military governor. There is no need for an investigation to ascertain that. Is anyone going to apologize to the families whose homes have been destroyed?

How are they going to be compensated for their property that has been destroyed? These are questions that need to be addressed by the government and must be seen in the wider context of the over 100,000 Bedouin residing in the sprawling “unrecognized” villages that cover much of the Negev.

The view that these encampments should not become a permanent fixture of the Negev landscape and that the Bedouin residing there should in due time undergo a process of urbanization is understandable. But it should also be clear that this process has to be planned and carried out with the cooperation of the Bedouin. The use of force should not be an option.

This is a major undertaking and it is going to take time. It should be part of a government program to assist the Negev Bedouin to adjust to modern-day life in Israel. It must involve large-scale investments in education that will provide Bedouin youth with the skills needed in a modern high-tech economy and  allow them to contribute to the nation’s economy as well as their own well-being.

Who is going to undertake this gargantuan task? With all due respect, it cannot be carried out by this or that ministry that as part of coalition arrangements is charged with the task for a year or two before the issue is  turned over to another ministry. It must be part of a multiyear plan that will provide continuity and should be handled by a special authority to be located at the Prime Minister’s Office.

This authority has to be staffed by professionals – economists, sociologists, anthropologists, planners – and headed by someone who will devote himself to this important task for a number of years. It should include Bedouin, of whom there are many, who by their own efforts have achieved an advanced education and who bring to the job an understanding of Bedouin culture and an intimate knowledge of the difficulties that have to be overcome.

What happened at Umm al-Hiran should never have happened, but maybe the tragedy there will finally awaken the government to the urgent challenge that faces Israel in the Negev. The Negev Bedouin, 200,000 Israeli citizens, have been neglected far too long.

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