Over one third of the Bedouin population of southern Israeli live in so-called “dispersed areas” rather than incorporated towns and villages. These are not idyllic desert encampments, but impoverished shanty towns without schools or running water. With no police presence or formal government control, power in these areas is often in the hands of mafia-like groups who terrorize their fellow Bedouin while causing problems for other Israelis. David M. Weinberg explains the problem:
The Bedouin of the Negev are the fastest-growing population in the world, doubling in size every fifteen years through mass (and illegal) polygamy, today numbering close to 300,000 people. . . . It’s no surprise, then, that these Bedouin communities suffer from extraordinary high rates of unemployment, poverty, violence against women, and especially criminal activity. Islamic radicalization is on the rise too, leading to increased Bedouin involvement in terrorism against Jewish Israelis.
Last year, Mansour Abbas of the Islamic Israeli-Arab party Ra’am . . . secured tens of billions of shekels from the Israeli government to support Bedouin development, including at-least-temporary electricity hook-ups for tens of thousands of illegal structures in squatter camps. Some thought this was a harbinger of hope for more comprehensive long-term arrangements and solutions. In fact, on [a] study tour this week, I saw hundreds of government-developed plots of land (with all necessary modern infrastructure in place) ready for home construction in Bedouin towns like Hura—except that they remain empty and unused. . . . Why?
Broad clan-based Bedouin criminal gangs control just about anything that moves or wants to move in the Negev. They “regulate” the allocation of plots in every township and on every sand dune; they “own” the large business sectors in the south (including arms smuggling, drug manufacture and trade, trucking, and the “supply” of Palestinian women from Gaza and the West Bank for Bedouin men). And they prevent any Bedouin from the “dispersed” areas from moving into towns like Hura, especially if those that don’t belong to the right Bedouin clan or pay enough to the local Bedouin chieftain.
Most frightening of all, these Bedouin mafiosi run Negev-wide protection rackets, forcing Israeli Jewish residents of the south and their businesses to pay through the nose to ward off violence and destruction.