The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) and the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev (RCUV) released an urgent letter today (Wednesday) to officials from the Government and the IDF, demanding an immediate and adequate response to the absence of bomb shelters in the Arab Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab, both recognized and unrecognized by the State of Israel. This was as a result of the recent escalation this week between Israel and Gaza, during which it became clear once more that hundreds of thousands of Arab-Bedouin citizens of the state are left without any shelter during emergencies and are completely exposed to the missile threat. “This is negligence in the highest degree. The state has known for years and years that this is the case and does nothing to change it”.
The letter was sent to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu; Minister of Public Security Mr. Gilad Erdan; Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi; and the Home Front Commander, Major Tamir Yadai. The letter is backed by data collected as part of the submission of a petition on the subject by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in 2014, as well as the State Comptroller’s report from 2018, which pointed-out to extreme gaps in protecting the Arab communities and the Arab-Bedouin community in the Negev/Naqab in particular, during emergencies.
The letter presents the accusation that although the state is aware of the serious problem, nothing has been done except the promotion of shelters in public schools and clinics, and that 80,000 residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev/Naqab, who have no access to a bomb shelters at all, remain completely transparent to the government.
During Operation Protective Edge, a rocket hit the entrance to a family home in the unrecognized village of Al Wadij near Dimona, killing four people and injuring four members of the family. Another rocket hit a house in the unrecognized village of ʿAwajān near Lagiyyih, injuring two young girls. In the current round of violence, a rocket hit a house in the town of Lagiyyih and wounded two people. Ziyad al-Hamamdeh, a resident of the unrecognized village of Ṣwāwīn, who was killed by a rocket in Ashkelon, also came from a village without any means of protection. One of his relatives told YNET that the late Hamamdeh told him on the morning of the day he was killed before leaving for work in Ashkelon that “our whole area is in danger and we have no shelters to run to if anything should happen. So, I’ll go to my workplace and continue the day as usual”. In all the cases mentioned, the residents of the villages did not have a bomb shelter, and the Iron Dome does not intercept rockets aimed at “open spaces”, where most of the unrecognized villages are situated.
The organizations also emphasized that there are serious gaps between the number of pupils and teachers in the schools and the capacity of the bomb shelters located in the educational institutions, and that many schools are composed of mobile structures only, so that there is no protected space at all.
“It is an absurd situation in which the state is aware of the danger but does nothing, and when a family living in a Bedouin village hears the siren that often comes from the nearby Jewish community, there is nothing left for them to do but pray. It is It is inconceivable that the authorities are stumping on their basic right to life – this is negligence at the highest level, which will cause trauma and more losses of life, “said Haia Noach, Executive Director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.
Attia al-Asem, Chairman of the Council for the Unrecognized Bedouin Villages in the Negev and resident of the recognized village of Abu Tlūl, added: “When the sirens are heard, the fear is double: the alarm lets us know that there is a missile coming our way but we know that we have no shelter or protection from the Iron Dome, so all we can do is wait for the missile to hit. The Home Front Command and the authorities are aware of the situation and just treat us as transparent – we have to deal with the trauma and the anxiety all alone”.