A recent visit to Israel included a drive into the desert of the Negev region. I noticed small groups of tents and our guide said they were Bedouin —people who have no land and are not connected to water or electricity. They roam whenever they need new sources of food and water for their animals and have very limited participation in the growing country of Israel.
But the bigger shock was learning that despite Israeli progressive laws related to women, the impact of those laws are absent for Bedouin women. According to Women Lawyers for Social Justice, 85% of Bedu0in women report that they are subjected to severe physical/psychological violence. Of these, 90% were openly battered in public. More than 70% of all Bedouin women in Israel are wed by coercion. The law notwithstanding, Bedouin society practices unbridled polygamy. In fact, the government’s only input appears in the form of generous child allotments paid to uncontrollable outsized family frameworks where men may boost 40 or more offspring! To make matters worse, abused women in Bedouin communities are the least likely to enlist outside help. Of them, 67% admitted that they do not discuss their problems with outsiders because they fear backlash to their families and potential loss of their children.
As stated in a timely editorial in the Jerusalem Post (6/6/2012) the “abandonment of these women to a cruel fate right under our noses is only one facet of the conspiracy of silence that envelopes the Bedouin enclaves. The result is large areas to which the state opts to turn a blind eye and where is doesn’t exercise its authority.”
What makes this even more complicated is the fact that the Bedouin community is tightly knit making it difficult for outside interventions that are meaningful and just—one of the many challenges Israel faces as it strives to settle its political and religious debates. On the totally opposite spectrum, I was amazed to see how well the four neighborhoods (or quarters) of the old city of Jerusalem (Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim) seem to coexist with only few problems! It truly is a complicated country.