President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday met with a delegation of academics and dignitaries from the Bedouin community to discuss ways to enhance ties between Bedouins and Jews in the education and social spheres. Among the participants were the IDF's liason to the Bedouin community, Mansour Abu-Taha, Professor Araf Abu-Rabia of the Middle East Studies Department at Ben Gurion University, Sheikh Ibrahim Alamour, Sheikh Id Abu-Rashd, former MK Haim Oron, and others.
Speaking to the group, Rivlin said that he had last week visited the Bedouin towns of Rahat and Houra, after the deaths of eight women who were on their way home from Jerusalem several weeks ago in a traffic accident. “I went to express my condolences with the family, and with Rahat, which is an important city in Israel,” Rivlin said. “I visited several schools and agricultural projects, and I was very impressed with the progress they have made.
“We must ensure that we continue, as in the past, to find ways to live with each other,” Rivlin said. “Coercion never works, especially in democratic societies – only goodwill works, and we must show that to each other. We will ensure that whatever gaps there are with the rest of society will be bridged. The government is here to help citizens, not make life harder for them. We are here to help and remove any problems that stand in your way. My home is open to you – but we must remember that even though we are a family, we may not agree on everything.”
Among the concerns expressed by Rivlin's interlocutors was the lack of jobs for young Bedouin, especially college graduates. Asking Rivlin to take an active role in solving the issue, Professor Abu-Taha asked the President to “spread your presidential robe over us, and tell us we are all your children.” Others expressed concern over the lack of health facilities in Bedouin towns, and the need to improve education, especially in younger grades.
Despite the problems, said Sheikh Alamour, Bedouin were loyal citizens of Israel, and would remain so. “We will continue to give all we can give to the State, all we ask for is our rights from all the institutions we come into contact with.”