During Operation Protective Edge, most Bedouin Arabs in Israel’s Negev Desert found themselves without bomb shelters to escape the rocket barrages from Gaza. Now a British Jewish group, the UK chapter of the Jewish National Fund, has purchased three mobile bomb shelters for the residents of the predominantly Bedouin city of Rahat.
“Having help from organizations like JNF UK in these difficult times is vital to our communities and shows that we can work effectively and live side by side in the Negev,” Rahat Mayor Fayez Abu Sahiban said, according to a JNF press release. “A large proportion of the Bedouin population in this region lives in temporary dwellings, which means the Iron Dome [missile defense system] cannot recognize these settlements. Having mobile bomb shelters will help preserve life, particularly the lives of our children.”
The shelters measure three meters by three meters and will be placed in two local schools and a nursery. The JNF said it was especially interested in providing shelters for children, describing them as “the most vulnerable members” of the Bedouin community.
The Bedouins who populate the Negev have historically lived migratory lifestyles. Although many have settled down in municipalities like Rahat, thousands of Bedouin Israelis continue to live as traditional nomads, an issue that often finds them at odds with government planners and local property owners.
The peripatetic nature of some Bedouins also leaves them dangerously unprotected by Iron Dome, as the anti-rocket batteries only intercept projectiles headed towards known population centers.
In July, a Bedouin man was killed and four others, including two toddlers, were injured after a rocket struck a family home in an unrecognized Bedouin village near Dimona.
According to the JNF website, the organization is involved in a number of projects with Bedouin residents, ranging from clean water initiatives to educational development.
The Bedouin Israeli population is estimated at 200,000 people and is among the country’s poorest, most disenfranchised communities. Demographers have claimed that they have the highest birthrate in the world.
The JNF has cited this, along with a number of other social issues plaguing the community, as its impetus in reaching out to Israel’s Bedouin residents.