President Shimon Peres is now “Sheikh Peres,” crowned on Tuesday in traditional Bedouin garb during a visit to the city of Hura, between Be’er Sheva and Arad.
The President cited Hura as being a model for the Negev’s Bedouin community, which comprises more than one-third of the region. He visited the tent of the Sheikh of Hura and met schoolchildren and local leaders.
The Hura council chairman told President Peres, “The Bedouin population is in a transition from a simple but stable life to one that is modern and perhaps less stable. This decade will be critical for advancing the Negev, and we believe development will not be successful without suitable policies towards Bedouin.”
The President replied, “Hura has rapidly become a symbol of success, and no one can help you better than you have done for yourselves. Whoever wants to solve the Bedouin problem should come here. Bedouin in the Negev are not a problem. They are part of the Negev, which cannot be developed without promoting the Bedouin community, whose traditions we want to preserve while connecting you with the modern world.”
The President's visit was in keeping with the ceremonial role assigned to Israel's presidents, who are seen as unifying and expected to be uninvolved in political issues. Peres has expanded that role of his own volition, meeting with Obama and PA President Abbas, and often promoting views that oppose the elected government's positions.
However, at this visit, no mention was made of the Negev Bedouin's enormous and increasingly unsolvable problems and their detrimental effect on Israeli society – massive theft of produce and livestock from local Jewish farmers, other forms of crime, a large birthrate due to Israel’s allowing the Bedouin to practice polygamy, constant encroachment of land and the existence of tens of thousands illegal shanties and buildings in what authorities call “unrecognized villages.”
Criminal activities have centered on drug trafficking, but Bedouin also have been involved in more terrorism in recent years, often assisting Hamas terrorists by smuggling weapons into the country from the Sinai Peninsula.
Police routinely steer clear of entering Bedouin villages, where they often have been chased out by violent tribes.
Excluding Be’er Sheva, Bedouin constitute a majority of the Negev and have taken over thousands of acres that they claim belong to them by tradition. The Negev landscape is dotted with thousands of small villages, some of them located adjacent to army bases.