State not obligated to fortify Bedouin communities, court rules

Despite death of man on Saturday, judges do not challenge IDF’s priorities in allocating defensive structures

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A concrete bomb shelter is placed in a school in Ashkelon, April 2009 photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)
A concrete bomb shelter is placed in a school in Ashkelon, April 2009 photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court ruled on Sunday that the state is under no obligation to immediately provide additional protection against rockets to Bedouin communities in the Negev Desert, but called on authorities to formulate and publish criteria for civilian protection in the south within 30 days.

The court was responding to an urgent appeal by a group of Israeli human rights NGOs on Thursday, following the injury of two Bedouin girls in the unrecognized village of Awajan, Maram and Athir al-Wagili, by a rocket fired from Gaza on July 14. On Saturday, as the court was deliberating the issue, a Bedouin man was killed and his three-month-old daughter seriously injured near the city of Dimona, also as a result of a rocket originating from Gaza.

Judges Zvi Zylbertal, Yoram Danziger and Noam Sohlberg said they found no flaw in the state’s allocation of outdoor protective concrete structures, known as miguniot, that would justify an intervention.

“There is no argument that the state has a supreme obligation to defend the lives and bodily integrity of its citizens,” they wrote in the ruling. “But the state’s obligation to defend the lives of its residents and citizens in times of emergency can be fulfilled through a wide range of means.”

A Bedouin community in the Negev Desert, April 1, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A Bedouin community in the Negev Desert, April 1, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel has no more than 150-200 miguniot it can distribute, the state argued in court, and has decided to prioritize areas within a 20-kilometer (13-mile) radius of the Gaza Strip, which have sustained 80 percent of the rocket fire emanating from Gaza. Lying on the ground and taking cover reduces the chance of injury from rocket shrapnel by 80 percent, Israel’s Home Front Command told the court.

The Supreme Court said it rarely intervenes in the operational discretion of the IDF during fighting.

“We have found no flaw in the defendants’ decision regarding miguniot to justify our intervention,” the judges wrote. “The array of current means of defense is too limited to cover all areas within rocket range. Pulling the blanket over one area would expose another.”

The Israeli NGOs, represented in court by the the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, argued that Israel failed to provide minimal means of protection to Bedouin communities in a manner that constituted unlawful discrimination against Arabs.

“So far, the state has presented no solution to the Bedouins. They feel that the state goes out of its way to provide solutions to other citizens in the area, forsaking the Arab Bedouins in the Negev. This is unacceptable negligence on the part of the state,” attorney Nisreen Alayan said in court Thursday.

The judges rebuffed the discrimination argument in their ruling, expressing confidence that only “relevant considerations” guided the IDF’s defense prioritization.

The court, however, did call on the state to formulate and explain within 30 days its policies on how to better protect areas in Bedouin communities.

Alayan, the ACRI attorney, said the Supreme Court ruling “adds to the growing alienation which exists between the [Bedouin] citizens and state institutions.”

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