by Prof. Eyal Zisser
Indeed, because of the traditional way of life and aversion to progress, because of the tension between the Bedouin population and the state, the expanses of the desert in the Middle East are a hotbed for the emergence and establishment of radical Islamist groups
The violent confrontation in Umm al-Hiran between the state and the Bedouin population is best understood in its broader context. At its core, the issue is the population's difficulty to integrate itself into modern life and enjoy the fruits of progress and modernity offered by the state. For its part, the state also finds it difficult to force itself and its laws upon the Bedouin. Exasperated, the state gives up time and time again in the face of the lawlessness and violence rooted in the Bedouin population's connection to traditions of rebellion and disobedience to any source of legitimacy or sovereign wishing to spread its dominion over the desert where the Bedouin live.
The State of Israel is not the only state that copes with this difficulty. This is an issue faced by all Middle Eastern states, at least in countries where the state can even be said to exist at all. Egypt, for example, faces this with the Bedouin population in the Sinai Peninsula. In Jordan, the Bedouin went from being a pillar of loyal support for the Hashemite royal family to a source of unrest. Even Saudi Arabia has this problem.
More than 10,000 Bedouins lived in the Negev when the state was founded. Today, that number stands at a quarter of a million. The natural growth rate for the Bedouin population is among the highest in the world, essentially doubling itself every 15 years. This unprecedented natural growth rate is caused by several factors, including the polygamy still common in Bedouin society, for example. Men are often married to multiple women and have dozens of children. The welfare policy of past generations' Israeli governments promoted this phenomenon, because the increase in children translates to a central source of family income for the father. This sort of situation propagates the phenomenon of polygamy, even though it is forbidden by law (a prohibition that was never implemented.)
The state's difficulty in settling the Bedouin population, as well as providing them with medical services, education, welfare and integrating them in the workforce, is also caused by the Bedouins' wish to preserve tribal identity and loyalty, and, in one way or another, also by the Bedouins' difficulty in accepting the authority of the state and its institutions, namely the police and law enforcement. But before this happens, they must first respect the basic laws of the state (the ban on polygamy, land registry laws and building permits). This relationship can be seen as a closed circuit from which the state and the Bedouins are hard pressed to release themselves. We have a long way ahead of us. The state must invest significant resources, but this must be combined with good will and a willingness to change on the part of the Bedouin population.
The state of the Bedouin population living in Israel and the state of the relationship between the powers that be and Bedouin citizens is still much better than the existing state of affairs in Israel's neighboring countries. In the Sinai Peninsula, the existing tension between the government in Cairo and young Bedouins, many of whom have joined the Islamic State group, has allows the terrorist organization to spread throughout Sinai. In Jordan, it is the tribal Bedouin, who in the distant past functioned as an important base of support for the Jordanian royal house, that are behind the strengthening of radical Islamist groups threatening the stability of the state today.
Indeed, because of the traditional way of life and aversion to progress, because of the tension between the Bedouin population and the state, the expanses of the desert in the Middle East are a hotbed for the emergence and establishment of radical Islamist groups. Israel is not unusual in this regard.
Some Arab MKs wished to use the violent incident in the Negev last week, as well as the state's efforts to enforce its authority over the Bedouin, as pawns to advance their political agendas. But standing at the root of the issue is a challenge that at its core is a societal, economic and state problem, and not a national struggle or tension. Despite this, it is kindling best dealt with before it catches fire, as the flames engulfing several of Israel's neighbors demonstrate.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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