The entire story of polygamy in the Negev is very puzzling, since polygamy is against the law in Israel. Therefore the question immediately arises: why does the state not enforce this law on the Bedouins, and why does it finance polygamy among them by granting children’s benefits and income supplements? The answer is clear: the state understands that the issue is a cultural matter related to the Bedouin sector so it prefers to pay them, using resources that would have been available to other sectors, just to keep the Bedouins quiet, so they will not demonstrate and not block the roads.
Another matter connected to marriage is unions between relatives. Most couples in the Negev are relatives, and the result is that many children suffer from genetic diseases, some of which are severe and life-threatening. The high rate of infant mortality within the Bedouin sector stems in part from this reason. The state must allocate many resources to care for the children who suffer from genetic defects. Marriage between relatives is also a cultural matter related to tribal conventions.
Another cultural matter related to Bedouins is the matter of honor killing and blood feuds. In this matter as well, the state prefers to close an eye and not see the serious transgressions that are committed within the Bedouin sector, whether because of the difficulty in investigating them – no Bedouin would testify against another Bedouin – or because of the leniency with which the law enforcement agencies (police, state’s attorney, courts, prisons and the mechanism of pardons) relate to these acts of murder. The researcher Manar Hasan exposed this leniency in an important and painful article that was published in the book “Sex, Gender and Politics”, edited by D. Yizraeli.
Additional problematic matters with the Bedouin sector that have come to light in recent years are the culture of “protection money” in building sites and industrial areas, for example: Emek Sarah in Beersheba, and smuggling of drugs, guns, women and foreign workers from Sinai and Jordan.
All of these matters – illegal building on state lands, polygamy, marriage among relatives, murder, blood feuds, protection and smuggling – which are connected to the Bedouin sector, prove that rather than being a case of a few isolated incidents, the problem is that the Bedouin culture sees the law of the state as law that is not part of the Bedouin culture. In this, the Bedouins in Israel are no different from the Bedouins throughout the Arab world, who live parallel and separate lives from the rest of the state, and within another legal system – “customs and tradition” – which is based on the sense of “we are here and the state is there”. The group gives them power, because the state – for reasons of convenience – does not deal with each separate Bedouin, but with a consolidated and violent tribe that would not hesitate to take to violence if it feels that its interests are endangered.
Tribal culture is the basis for all of the problems that are connected with the Bedouins, not only in Israel but in the entire Middle East: in Libya, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Syria, in Algeria, in Egypt (Sinai) and in many other places, tribes struggle with the state in order to maintain their culture, their laws, their customs and their traditions, that are usually contrary to the laws of the state and its regulations. The tribe has its own leadership and its own legal system and in many matters it conducts itself as an entity that is independent and separate from the state. Among the Bedouins, the state is considered a hostile entity since it aims to enforce its laws on the tribe.