Negev Bedouin
Negev BedouinHezki Ezra

The socio-economic gap between Jews and Bedouin has turned the Negev into “a powderkeg,” warned Sigal Moran, head of the Bnei Shimon regional council in the Negev, in an interview with Arutz Sheva.

Moran suggested that the government start with the “carrot” of improved living conditions in authorized, planned cities before moving to the “stick” of destroying illegal encampments.

“Let them improve the quality of life in the towns first… Then they can talk about evacuating unauthorized settlement,” she said.

The government is planning to implement the “Prawer plan,” which will authorize many illegal Bedouin towns and expand existing Bedouin cities, but will also evacuate several illegal towns. Several Arab and Bedouin groups have denounced the plan as racist and have joined “Day of Rage” events in protest; the Islamic Movement in particular has denounced Israel as “fascist” over the proposal.

Moran warned that poverty in Bedouin towns is a huge issue. “The gap today is unthinkable. On the socio-economic scale they’re at ‘1,’ we’re at ‘6.’ Their children look at our children, and it doesn’t exactly make them like us,” she said.

“The gap creates hatred. It’s a powderkeg,” she declared.

Israel’s governments over the generations have failed to address the problem, she accused. “They thought that if they ignored the issue, it would go away… Extremists are likely to enter that empty space,” she warned.

“As the sovereign power, the government of Israel must first of all improve conditions in authorized settlements, so that Bedouins will have an interest in reaching an agreement. We need to rebuild their trust,” she said.

Moran expressed optimism over the potential benefit to improving conditions in Bedouin cities. “There are intellectuals there. They aren’t the nomads they once were. If we improve their quality of life, most will choose this path,” she argued.

A program to radically improve the Bedouin lifestyle will be expensive, she noted. “But if the Negev is enflamed, that will be much more expensive, and complicated, because then they will have to invest a lot more in protecting us and in dealing with riots,” she argued. “Because we really are sitting on a powderkeg.”

The Bedouin community in the Negev has the highest unemployment rate and highest poverty rate in Israel, with roughly 66% living under the poverty line. The situation is worse in unauthorized encampments, which often have no services such as schools or even electricity; the poverty rate in the encampments is nearly 80%, and the school dropout rate is roughly 32%.

Studies over the past decade have indicated that much of the difference is due to a simple lack of physical access; for example, towns built far from existing roads make commuting to school or work highly difficult.