Israel excluding at-risk Arab communities from emergency COVID-19 food security aid

Adalah demands Israeli interior minister cancel policy that excludes Bedouin citizens living in unrecognized villages from receiving emergency COVID-19 food stamps.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has sent an urgent letter to Israel’s interior minister demanding he revoke a policy that excludes at-risk populations – notably Bedouin citizens of Israel living in unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev) – from receiving COVID-19 food security grants.


The Israeli policy makes receipt of COVID-19 food security grants – essentially, food stamps – conditional upon one’s determined eligibility for municipal property tax rebates. Thus, this leaves citizens who live in unrecognized communities which do not fall under any municipal jurisdiction unable to obtain food assistance.


Adalah demands that Israel’s Interior Ministry cancel this discriminatory policy and establish clear, uniform, equal criteria for eligibility based on need for the receipt of emergency food stamps.


Adalah’s letter, sent by Adalah attorneys Sawsan Zaher and Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi on 15 November 2020, stated that the criteria do not guarantee emergency food distribution will be conducted in an equal manner and may, in fact, entirely exclude at-risk populations most vulnerable to food security issues.


According to the regulations, only “households entitled to a tax deduction” are eligible to receive emergency COVID-19 food security assistance. Adalah stresses that the criteria are not sufficient to accurately determine a family’s socio-economic status, never mind its food security situation.


Adalah filed its most recent demand after Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri had failed to respond to an earlier query submitted on 8 October 2020. On 22 October 2020, the ministry released a NIS 700 million (approximately US$208 million) tender for a food distribution system, part of a special government aid program instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Most vulnerable citizens left unprotected


The 90,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev) desert constitute one of the most economically-destitute and vulnerable communities in the country. Because Israel refuses to recognize their villages, they remain unaffiliated with any municipal authority and are thus ineligible to receive emergency food stamps.


Further, Adalah notes in its letter, the food stamps can only be used in localities with more than 20,000 inhabitants, excluding at-risk populations from small – mostly Arab – localities.


Adalah attorneys Sawsan Zaher and Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi commented:


“Residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) will not receive food assistance, even though they are most certainly one of the poorest groups in the country and significantly impacted by COVID-19. Israel must formulate criteria for receipt of the emergency food stamps that effectively ensures all citizens enjoy equality and live with dignity.”


CLICK HERE to read the letter [Hebrew]