Keeping distance: Bennett does not enter crime-ridden Bedouin city on tour of Negev

Prime Minister Bennett chooses not to step foot in Rahat, and instead gain “operational overview” of crime-ridden city via observation point on nearby hill.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he would be touring communities in Israel’s southern Negev desert on Monday, where residents have long complained of an unprecedented crime wave and lawlessness that rivals the Wild West.

But Bennett’s itinerary included a detail which did not sit well with residents of one of the largest municipalities in the Negev, the Bedouin city of Rahat, which has a population of some 72,000.

The city, where organized crime has a strong foothold and weapons and drug smuggling are major industries, has drawn attention as a focal point for the breakdown of law and order in the Negev.

But rather than take a tour of the city, Bennett’s office said that he would “visit a lookout point over the city of Rahat [on a nearby hill] and get an operational overview.”

The mayor of Rahat, Fayez Abu Sabihan, was miffed by Bennett’s snub and vocally expressed his displeasure with the decision.

“It is ridiculous that the prime minister of Israel observes [Rahat] from a lookout on a hill and does not enter the city, as if all of us are criminals,” Abu Sabihan told Walla News.

With his Negev tour ostensibly aiming to demonstrate Israel’s strengthening control over a region which critics say has become a no-man’s-land free from governmental authority, Bennett’s decision to not step foot in Rahat is likely to raise eyebrows.

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Ortal Shmueli, a member of a Negev residents’ forum, told Walla News that “unfortunately, we’re seeing serious deterioration” in local security.

She specifically mentioned problems with “crime” and “dangerous driving on the roads…to the point where I need to plan my routes, as a mother of small children [to avoid roads used by Bedouin drivers.]”

While acknowledging that the vast majority of Bedouin in the Negev are “good people who want to live in peace,” she said that “sexual harassment in public spaces” by Bedouin men against Jewish women had also reached intolerable levels.

Referencing the widespread issue of illegal arms, mostly stolen from military bases, Shmueli said that in the Negev there are “a frightening amount of weapons.”

“Nobody needs a machine gun at home!” she added.