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Polygamy in the Bedouin sector: A ticking time-bomb that nearly exploded

Today (Monday), the Shin Bet security agency announced that it foiled a Hamas bombing attack at Bilu Junction in central Israel. Mahmud Makdad, an Israeli citizen from the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom in the Negev, was apprehended as he attempted to plant an explosive device in a bus stop at the bustling junction.

Nine others, nearly all residents of Segev Shalom, were arrested for conspiring or actively participating in the foiled attack – including Mahmud’s brother, Ahmed Makdad.

The Makdad brothers’ mother is an Israeli Bedouin, while their father hails from the Gaza Strip. Mahmud is married to woman who resides in Gaza; he spends half his time there. He was enlisted by the military wing of Hamas to reconnoiter sensitive spots throughout Israel, provide information on the location of Iron Dome installations, and was trained to carry out explosive-device attacks.

Regavim conducted an in-depth study on polygamy in the Bedouin sector, and is a participant in the inter-ministerial team convened by the government to monitor enforcement of anti-polygamy laws and implementation of government policy.

According to Regavim’s 2018 study, as a result of marriages between Palestinian women (mainly residents of the Hebron area & the Gaza Strip) and Bedouin men who hold Israeli citizenship, between 40,000-60,000 Palestinian women and their children were living in the Negev in 2015. This figure, based on Israeli social welfare agencies’ estimates, reflects a rate of polygamy in Israel’s Bedouin sector of some 35%; in these polygamous households, some 70% of the women are Palestinian. A study published by Professor Arnon Sofer in 2004 quoted sources that estimated the number of Palestinians living in the northern Negev at that time was between 50,000 – 65,000.

We cannot ignore the fact that the Makdad brothers are products of the practice of polygamy in the Bedouin sector. As Bedouin men seek a second, third or even fourth wife, a massive ‘import-export trade’ has burgeoned in the Negev, enabling for the connection of families to hostile groups in Gaza/the PA.

While these arrests should not cast aspersions on the entire Bedouin sector, the trend of ‘Palestinianization’ of the Bedouin sector must be addressed!

In recent years, thanks to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s directives and former Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked’s efforts, progress has been made to tackle this issue. However, the government is focusing mainly on the socioeconomic and personal aspects of the practice of polygamy, rather than on its national-social aspects. This time, the ticking bomb was defused – quite literally – but the problem has not been solved.

Regavim: Preserving Israel’s Resources, Restoring Israeli Sovereignty