Bedouin pay high price for loyalty Israel 'neglects' its Bedouin trackers

They say they are denied civil rights because they are not Jews
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The Independent Online

Zarzir, Israel

Angry Bedouin, many of them soldiers in the Israeli army, were yesterday burying two of their number killed over the weekend in fighting in Lebanon.

Their coffins draped with the Israeli flag, the bodies of Hisham Rakhal Hayeb and Ahni Hayeb were buried in the cramped little cemetery of Zarzir, a community in Galilee that has lost proportionately more of its people in wars than almost any village in Israel.

Both men were warrant officers specialising in tracking. They were killed by a mortar bomb fired by pro-Iranian Hizbollah guerrillas in an ambush on Sunday.

Their death brings to 40 the number of Bedouin from Zarzir killed fighting for Israel - and usually regarded as traitors by Palestinians - since independence in 1948.

The Bedouin of Zarzir do not think they have had a fair return for their loyalty. "They will not even give us money for our cemetery," said Ibrahim Hayeb, a teacher, pointing to the tumbled heaps of earth around the graves and a patch of burnt ground where somebody had tried to clear the long grass and weeds by setting fire to them.

He says the government refused to help the Bedouin build schools, mend the roads and provide playgrounds for their children. It even turned down a request by people in Zarzir to add a minaret to their mosque, on the grounds that it would offer a distant view of a military airport at Ramot David. Villagers say they are surprised they are viewed as a security threat, since most of them serve in the Israeli army.

The Bedouin, often bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, play an important role tracking down infiltrators and guerrillas. Because their role requires them to be in the front line, they take heavy casualties as fighting intensifies in Lebanon.

Two other members of the Hayeb clan have been killed there in the last year.

The villagers, all Israeli citizens, say they are systematically denied civil rights because they are Bedouin and not Jews. Musa Rakhal, a local councillor, wounded in the legs in Lebanon in the 1980s, is bitter that the newly built Jewish village of Givat Ella, less than a mile from Zarzir, has got all the facilities the Bedouin are denied. Ibrahim Hayeb says that when they asked people at Givat Ella if Bedouin children could use their swimming pool "they turned us down''.

Nobody knows - according to David Newman at the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics - how many settled Bedouin there are in Israel. People in Zarzir, perched on the edge of the Jezreel valley between Haifa and Nazareth, say there are 5,000 Bedouin in the village, of whom 1,200 belong to the Hayeb clan. The Hayeb have a tradition of joining the army, where 150 of them work as trackers, while the number of professional soldiers from Zarzir as a whole totals about 300.

Over the past two years the Bedouin have started to make some effort to organise politically. "We held a strike and a demonstration outside the Knesset," said one of the village leaders. Their main demand is to have their own municipality. One of their complaints is that they are are at present included in a council which is dominated by Givat Ella and kibbutzim who never allocate any money to Zarzir.

Musa Rakhal says the government is equally unforthcoming. He asked for help to improve the cemetery where Hisham and Ahni Hayeb were buried yesterday but was told there was no money available.