Over twenty representatives from the British Jewish community participated in a high-level study trip from 5-9 February 2017 exploring issues relating to Bedouin citizens of Israel in the Negev. Delegates toured Rahat, Hura, Az-Zarnog & Az-Zarura, and Beer Sheva, visiting projects and engaging with leading representatives within the Bedouin community, the public sector, local and national government, and civil society spheres.
Led by both Co-Chairs of the UK Task Force, UJIA Chief Executive Michael Wegier and Pears Executive Chairman Trevor Pears CMG, and UK Task Force Director Toni Rickenback, the delegation included senior figures in British Jewry, including religious, political, and youth leaders, as well as representatives of charitable foundations.
The Bedouin are a subgroup within the Arab Muslim minority in the State of Israel, with a unique cultural, historical, social, and political history. There are approximately 300,000 Bedouin citizens in Israel, constituting 3.5% of the Israeli population. 230,000 (80%) live in the Negev, in seven towns that were built by the government and approximately 35 unrecognized villages that are at the centre of tensions between the Bedouin community and the Israeli government. The Bedouin communities are the poorest in Israel; rated last on the socioeconomic scale, with the lowest employment rate in Israel. They are also the youngest communities in Israel with 50% of Bedouin under 18 years of age.
The unique challenges of Bedouin society are being addressed by the Israeli government and civil society organizations, creating new opportunities to improve and encourage the integration of the Bedouin into Israel’s economy. In the last decade the government allocated specific budgets for the Bedouin community and approved initiatives to empower Bedouin men and women to take their place in the labour market. There has been significant progress in women’s education: At the end of the 1990s there were few Bedouin women with higher education qualifications, today there are thousands of university and college Bedouin women graduates.
During the study trip the UK Task Force delegation met with government representatives and Bedouin leadership, civil society activists and academics, including: Yariv Man, Senior Division Manager for Economic & Social Development, Directorate for Economic & Community Development of Negev Bedouins, Ministry of Agriculture; MK Ayman Odeh, Head of the Joint Arab List; and Dr Sarah abu Kaf of Ben Gurion University.
The group learned about plans to create employment opportunities for Bedouin citizens of Israel in the hi-tech industry and public sector, about educational challenges and the role of government, civil society, and communities in meeting the needs of Israel’s Arab Citizens.
The trip was closed by David Quarrey British Ambassador to Israel, at a lunch hosted at his residency, complimenting the participants for their interest in the Israeli society.
Speaking after the study trip, Jeremy Kelly, Chief Executive of the Ben Gurion University Foundation said, “Reflecting on the past few days I realised that I have learnt and been exposed to so many issues and new ideas – more than in many years of travelling to Israel. It was a fantastic programme, brilliantly executed, and consummately managed.”
On the impact of the trip, Rabbi Daniella Kolodny, Rabbinic Consultant at Masorti Judaism said, “The study trip was intense and thought provoking; even days later I continue to contemplate everything I saw, heard and experienced while we were in Beersheba and the Bedouin villages.”
Download the study trip briefing pack below