Emergency Assistance to Negev Bedouin

A guest blog by Phyllis Bernstein, Co-Chair of Federation’s Israel Arab Committee and a member of its Israel Overseas Committee

Through the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Ministry of Welfare, the Jewish Agency and JDC-Israel (Federation overseas partner agencies), we see some help and respite for children, elderly, and disabled Bedouin residents of Rahat and other Bedouin towns in the Negev.

During Operation Protective Edge rockets rained down on communities throughout Israel but the south remained the hardest hit. In the Negev, Bedouins comprise one third of the residents or around 220,000 people. They are directly within range of missiles fired by Hamas from Gaza, but Bedouin communities have no shelters, safe rooms, or safe zones. The news from July showed that some Bedouin villages were hit with some wounded and one fatality.

Approximately 40 percent of Negev Bedouin (around 90,000 people) live in villages not recognized by the state (“unrecognized villages”). These villages are by far the poorest communities in Israel, and all Bedouin localities rank on the bottom two economic ratings of Israeli municipalities (out of 10). Bedouin unrecognized villages lack overall land, infrastructure, and basic services such as electricity, running water, garbage collection, paved roads, and health-care clinics.

Greater MetroWest has been supporting Bedouin economic development through its Ness Fund for a number of years and this emergency situation called for a quick response. Through its Israeli Arabs Committee, Federation is allocating funding to a Jewish Agency Youth Futures project for the Bedouin village of El-Kassum. In ordinary circumstances, this project provides at-risk children with mentors who help them improve their interpersonal and academic skills. During Operation Protective Edge, these mentors provided a day of respite for the 80 children from El-Kassum, who were taken to an amusement park near Jerusalem, outside the range of most rockets from Gaza.

"It's very important for the children to have this day outside of the south," said Youth Futures director for El-Kassum, Suheir Abukrinat. "It gives them a chance to simply be children." She reported that there are no bomb shelters and no air-raid sirens in El Kassum."We find out from our phones when a rocket is coming," she said. "It typically lets us know after the rocket has already fallen."

Several government ministries and major NGOs are also dedicating additional resources to addressing Bedouin needs in the Negev. The Ministry of Negev allocated emergency funding to three Bedouin communities — the city of Rahat, Tel Sheva local council, and El-Kassum regional council. The funds were used for organizing one-day respites for residents, bringing entertainment to the communities, and purchasing games for the local children.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, in collaboration with JDC-Israel, allocated funds for the city of Rahat (the only Bedouin community within the 40 km distance from Gaza) to provide emergency assistance to the elderly and disabled residents.

As part of JFNA's Emergency Campaign Funding for the Negev, JDC-Israel is implementing a number of programs in Bedouin communities in the south, mostly focusing on those within 40 km from the Gaza border, which is defined as a “first-response” zone. These include services for people with disabilities (reaching approximately 300 Bedouin in the region), the elderly (serving daily meals in Rahat and providing days of respite for more than 200 people), and respite for families at risk from 9 Bedouin towns, a total of about 450 people. The JDC plans to add trauma counseling to their list of services and expand the number of Bedouin towns and villages reached.

See more articles on what NGOs are doing here.

At this time, when we all stand in solidarity with Israel and are concerned about the safety of its citizens, it is important to remember the most vulnerable communities, those who are marginalized in ordinary circumstances and are doubly so when society faces duress. Federation has taken important strides to build relationships with Israel’s Arab citizens and Negev Bedouin in particular as an extension of our Jewish values and in support of an Israeli democratic society that provides opportunities and protections to all its citizens.

To learn more about how the current situation has been affecting Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, and how Arab and Bedouin needs differ from the Jewish majority, join us at the Israeli Arabs Committee for educational events and additional resources. Contact me at phyllisb756@gmail.com or Heather Sorkin at hsorkin@jfedgmw.org

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