“We fight to belong to you and are seeking your recognition,” say Israeli Bedouins who serve in the IDF in an unusual series produced for Channel 14 (Israel’s equivalent to Fox News) by retired Lt. Col. Baruch Yadid, head of the channel’s Arab desk.
Belonging and being recognized – that’s the whole story, says Captain Ahmad Hujirat who serves in a Bedouin unit in the Negev. Captain Hujirat and his men monitor the border triangle with Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
“I was more than once in very unpleasant situations, and I’m as open as they come,” Hujirat confesses. “People start talking about Bedouins and then I pop up from somewhere in the crowd, and say, Guys, have some respect. Look, you have here a Bedouin guy, an army officer, combat company commander, who is on your side.
Captain Hujirat, 27, lives up north in Bir al-Maksur, a Bedouin local council in northern Israel located 10 miles northwest of Nazareth. The villagers belong to the el-Hujeirat tribe, which settled there in the 1950s. Their claim to fame is Mohammad Ghadir, 31, a professional soccer player who plays for Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv F.C. Now they have Captain Ahmad, too.
Major Fuaz Hasin, an officer in the Scouts Brigade, is just as adamant about his and his men’s military service being a ticket to full membership in Israeli society. “We are proud of being Israelis, in the State of Israel, the state that looks after us,” he tells Yadid. “We as citizens give what the state needs to get from us, and of course, vice versa.”
The Bedouins’ military service should not be taken for granted. The past few years have seen a decrease in the number of Bedouin youths enlisting in the IDF and an increase in the number of soldiers who drop out, according to IDF manpower officials. This trend paralleled the increase of incitement on social networks against Bedouins serving in the IDF, and the Hamas and extremist elements’ incitement campaigns against cooperation with the state.
The Bedouins in Israel are divided into two main groups:
The Bedouins who live in the Negev, population roughly 293,000, many of them semi-nomads and residents of illegal villages and towns.
The Bedouins in the North, a population 110,000, most of whom live in established villages and towns.
Of the two groups, the northern Bedouins feel a stronger affiliation with the state and also receive more benefits. The Bedouins in the south do not enjoy the same level of services and some of them are involved in crime.
In addition to these two groups, about 32,000 Bedouins live in the mixed cities of Lod, Ramla, and Haifa.
In total, the Bedouins make up about 3.5% of Israel’s population, with the entire Arab and Muslim sector in Israel making up 21% of the total population.