Bedouin community
Bedouin communityHezki Ezra

Speaking Sunday to a Bedouin group, Agricultural Minister Yair Shamir, who is also the government's point man onBedouin population group, said that he is considering reviving a plan proposed in the past to place limits on Bedouin marriage.

Polygamy is common among Bedouin, and is considered by many social scientists as a key factor in the population growth of the community. The official Bedouin population in the Negev is now about 200,000, but it has the highest rate of growth of any population anywhere in the world – doubling every 15 years.

“Only a country that seeks to commit suicide would ignore its Bedouin problem,” said Shamir. “The blindness is terrible. We are trying different ideas than had been decided by previous government committees – ideas that are focused less on legal issues and more on economic issues.” That, he said, would include ensuring that Bedouin have fewer children, if necessary by legislating against polygamy.

Polygamy is generally illegal in Israel, but exceptions in enforcement are made for communities that have traditionally allowed the practice – like the Bedouin.

This is not the first time the government has sought to regulate Bedouin polygamy as a way of discouraging excessive population growth. In 2008, then Minister of Welfare and current head of Labor Yitzchak Herzog called polygamy "an epidemic," and Farouk Amrur, chairman of the Beit Berl Jewish-Arab Institute, admitted the government has not dealt with the issue because "it fears confrontation with Bedouin society, even though polygamy is illegal." A government program sought to educate the Bedouin population on the disadvantages of the practice through seminars and therapy sessions.

Bedouin leaders have openly admitted that although the government has allowed polygamy on the claim that it is a religious tradition, they are using the practice to create "facts on the ground" to dominate the Negev.