Israel faces Bedouin population time bomb

First Sgt. Erez Levy, 34, an officer in the operations branch of the Israel Police, was crushed to death Wednesday morning, Jan. 18, in a car-ramming attack at the Bedouin village of Umm-al-Hiran in the southern Negev region. He was laid to rest that afternoon at the military cemetery in the city of Yavneh. He left behind a wife and two children, along with his parents and siblings.

Levy’s murderer, a 47-year-old villager, who was a member of the southern branch of Israel’s radical Islamic Movement, was shot and killed.

Levy, along with hundreds of other policemen and members of the Border Police, had reached the outskirts of the Bedouin village to provide security for the heavy equipment arrived to carry out a court-ordered demolition of houses built illegally on state-owned land.

For the sake of an orderly operation without casualties, the various authorities had negotiated for months with Bedouin leaders on alternatives. The day before the outbreak, understandings with representatives of the village were concluded and a deal signed, under which they agreed to relocate to prepared plots in the Bedouin town of Hura.
 Wednesday dawn, however, found a large crowd descending on the village and a group of Israeli Arab lawmakers led by the United Arab Party’s chairman, Ayman Oudeh, egging the villagers on to renege on the deal they had just signed for alternative housing.

In short order, the mob was rioting, throwing rocks and firecrackers at the police. The rampage culminated in a Bedouin ramming a jeep into a group of policemen, killing Sgt, killing Sgt. Levy and injuring a second officer.

Hours later, in an interview with the Army Radio “Galei Tzahal,” another United Arab List lawmaker Jamal Zahalkeh, who was not there, claimed nevertheless, “The policeman wasn’t run down, he was killed by gunfire from other policemen.”

The evidence of helicopter video footage and witnesses on the spot confirmed that Yakub Abu Al-Kiyan picked up speed to deliberately smash his new jeep into the policemen who were standing at the side of the dirt road leading into the village. 

It also shows how the officers hesitated to open fire, deterred by the recent case of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria who was convicted by a military court of manslaughter for killing an injured terrorist. At Umm Al-Hiran, police fired in the air rather than the killer-driver’s head as he raced towards them. Only after two police officers were down was he shot and killed.

In the face of this tragedy, the police face hard questions about how they managed a highly sensitive operation finally ordered by the District Court and Supreme Court after long hearings of the residents’ petititons. Why did they fail to cordon off the demolition site and surround its perimeter with border police sentries? Why were no roadblocks and police vehicles in place around the village to distance politicians and other troublemakers, including including Arab Knesset Members?

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh bears responsibility for this bungled operation, as well as those Israeli Arab lawmakers who habitually exploit any opportunity for inciting trouble.

Whoever is to blame, it cannot be denied that the Bedouin population, which is largely concentrated in the Negev, is becoming a ticking bomb for Israel. Statistics show that less than 2% of Bedouin eligible for conscription sign up for military service, mostly in the Border Police’s patrol or tracker units.

At the same time, the fact that their villages are crammed with firearms, along with their familiarity with army and police methods of operation, prevent law enforcement arms from cracking down on rampant crime in the south. And not just ordinary crime: Bedouin lawlessness extends to involvement in terror, religious radicalization, support for the fundamentalist Hamas, road deaths and the systematic violation of building and zoning laws.

It was only a matter of time before the lawlessness exploded into fatal violence. On Wednesday, it was 1st Sgt. Levy who paid with his life.


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