To reach Tel el-Barad from Ali’s house in Lakiya, you need to travel along a miserable, unpaved road through the Negev’s arid hilltops. Tel el-Barad, like most unrecognized villages, lacks paved roads as well as most other elements of modern infrastructure. The national electric grid and water mains have never been connected to the village. No one collects the trash or distributes mail to local addresses, and there are no bomb shelters. So the locals make do: They have purchased solar panels, created a water system with one massive tank, and resorted to burning their garbage. As for incoming rockets, their options are few. The official directive during a rocket attack is to lie down flat, hands behind the head—a protocol that also applies to drivers who hear a siren while on a highway. Some Bedouin have downloaded an app that announces sirens, since they can’t hear them, but most don’t bother: “It makes no difference,” they say. When Ali told me that there was a “complete disconnect between the state and its residents,” he meant it quite literally.
Amal Dhubsan, Ali’s sister-in-law and an energetic mother of eight from Lakiya, told me how dangerous homemade infrastructure can be on a normal day. This winter, she said, strong rains flooded her illegally built, cracking house. She found her kids “floating” at four in the morning. “I’m always afraid,” she said. She’s never felt safe in Israel, she says. “In order to feel safe you need to know what safety feels like.”
Now, rockets compound these daily risks, and the most vulnerable to Hamas fire are also the most vulnerable in general—the elderly, migrants, and the Bedouin.
One Monday in early July, two Bedouin girls, Maram and Atil al-Wakili, ages 11 and 13 respectively, were playing in their family’s farm in the unrecognized village of Awajan when a rocket fell not 150 feet from their home, sending them both to the hospital, one to the intensive care unit. The army confirmed that the rocket, like the one that later killed four sheep in Tel el-Barad, had landed in an open area.
The following day, the girls’ uncle, Omar al-Wakili, was among those who submitted an appeal to the Israeli High Court for protection from rockets for the Bedouin communities of southern Israel. Earlier this month, the justices upheld the decision of the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, the body responsible for civilian protection, not to provide shelters. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the justices admitted that the Ministry of Defense had not given them detailed information about where and how Iron Dome operates, but said that they believed the system gave no weight to “the appearance or absence of any settlements on different maps.”
The state’s legal counsel argued that the limited number and high expense of transportable shelters—Israel has somewhere between 120 and 150 of the hefty concrete cylinders, which cost $14,500 apiece on average—restrict its options for where to use them. These factors, combined with the fact that most Bedouin villages are outside of Gaza’s immediate firing range, mean that those villages are simply a lower priority for the state when it comes to providing shelters. Furthermore, argued the state, the law requires that owners or tenants of residential structures protect their residents.