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Report: Citing 'betrayal' by Israel, Bedouin soldiers refuse to report for duty

Feb. 27, 2017 7:14 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 28, 2017 12:21 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After Israeli officials enraged Palestinians by branding Yaqoub Abu al-Qian a terrorist when Israeli police shot him dead last month -- a claim that has been widely disputed -- a group of Bedouin soldiers announced they would no longer report for reserve duty in the Israeli army, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday.

Israeli police shot and killed Abu al-Qian in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran during a home demolition raid on Jan .18, with Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan immediately claiming the local math teacher was carrying out a vehicular attack motivated by Islamist extremism when he was shot.

In the wake of the incident, Erdan has made pleas to the “beloved” Bedouin community of Israel “to continue living in coexistence in the Negev,” while simultaneously launching what a group of Bedouin soldiers called a “slander campaign” against the Bedouin population with Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheich.

In a statement published by Haaretz on Sunday, 25 reservist Bedouin soldiers accused Erdan and Alsheich of “preferring to slander an entire population rather than admitting their embarrassing mistake and the unjustified taking of the life of an educator.”

Remarks made by Erdan last week were said to be an indication that he was backtracking on the terrorism accusation, as multiple eyewitnesses, video footage, and testimonies from Abu al-Qian's family members continued to contradict the minister’s claim, as they all asserted that Israeli police opened fire on the Abu al-Qian while he posed no threat, causing him to spin out of control and fatally hit an Israeli policeman.

Nevertheless, the Bedouin soldiers' wrote in their statement that they felt "abandoned" and "betrayed" by Israeli authorities.

“We have served in (Israeli army) combat units and have shed blood and tears protecting the borders of Israel and the safety of its residents. It is very unfortunate that at the end of our military service, we understood that we've been abandoned by the country that sent us to fight,” the statement said.

“How great is the pain, how great was our disappointment and sense of betrayal when it became clear to us that the country we had fought for was now turning its back on us, causing us harm and preventing us from living as civilians.”

With the exception of Druze and Circassians, Palestinian citizens of Israel are not mandated to serve in the army, though Israeli forces boast a sizeable number of Bedouin Muslim volunteers. Volunteer service is less common in other Palestinian communities.

The statement also described the discrimination experienced by the Bedouin community when attempting to enter the workforce after completing military service, while also being shunned by other Palestinians as “traitors” for serving in the Israeli army.

“From the standpoint of the Jews, we’re Arabs. From the standpoint of the Arabs, we’re traitors. We’re neither here nor there. There’s no one to represent us,” one of the soldiers told Haaretz, also claiming that the Arab Joint list coalition in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, showed greater concern for non-Bedouin Palestinians.

Another Bedouin soldier quoted by Haaretz also expressed dismay that Israeli authorities did not make more of a distinction between Bedouins and Palestinians, who he said were stereotyped as terrorists.

Abu al-Qian's killing and the demolitions in Umm al Hiran that day came amid a massive demolition campaign targeting Palestinians citizens in Israel, particularly in the town of Qalansawe, while Palestinians in the occupied territory were subjected to a record-breaking surge in home demolitions in 2016 that left 1,593 homeless.

The shocked homeowner told Ma’an: "I can't express my true feelings as I watched my home being demolished in front of my eyes, but I believe I am not in a better situation than that of the residents of Umm al-Hiran and Qalansawe, or others whose homes are facing demolition threats in the territories occupied in 1948.”

Sheikh Safwat Freij, the deputy head of the Islamic Movement in northern Israel and the head of al-Aqsa Association, said at the time: “After (Israeli) crimes in Umm al-Hiran and Qalansawe, we thought they would stop the war they have been waging against the indigenous Arab community, but they are moved by their blind grudge against everything that is Arab."

Right groups have argued that the aim of home demolitions is to forcibly displace Palestinians from the region, regardless of their status as residents of the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem, or as citizens of Israel -- despite the varying legal justifications used by Israel in each instance.
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