Israel has announced a crackdown on polygamy among the country’s Bedouins, warning that suspected polygamists will be prosecuted from now on.
The campaign was initiated by the Israeli Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor who was quoted by the AP news agency as saying that she will seek to enforce the law, a process which she said should be supported by "input from the community".
"The Bedouin community is the only place in this country where polygamy is legitimate, out loud, exposed, and no one is ashamed. It's a delicate issue, but it has to end", Palmor said, adding that she has spent two years researching the issue and discussing it with Bedouin activists.
Moreover, she said the campaign is in line with the government's push for developing the country's southern Negev desert where most Bedouins currently live. Citing investment in southern Israel, Palmor said the government came to realise that "if we want to build industry and army bases and make the south grow, the progress must include the Bedouin".
She rejected allegations that her campaign is politically motivated, citing support from Bedouin human rights attorney Insaf Abu-Shareb.
"We've been waiting for 70 years, and the longer the government does nothing, the harder polygamy becomes to change. If I want the situation of Bedouin women to improve, I need to work with them"" Abu-Shareb pointed out.
Most Bedouins, however, fear that the government's decision to clamp down on polygamists actually aims to remove the community from its ancestral territories and clear the way for Jewish settlement construction.
Alamour was echoed by Bedouin social worker Shefa al-Sana, who expressed alarm about the government's clampdown which she suggested may further worsen Bedouins' living conditions.
"Polygamy is not a random crime. It's a problem of ego and ignorance, men who have been stripped of their land needing women to treat as property," she argued.
According to statistics, about 190,000 people, about 3.5 percent of Israeli citizens, are Bedouin.
Up to 30 per cent of Bedouin men currently practice polygamy, and the rate is reportedly as high as 60 per cent in some Bedouin villages in Negev desert.