Israel’s Bedouins Still Practice Polygamy

Photo Credit: Indonesia Expat

Many Bedouin men still have multiple wives and practice polygyny. Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry.

Polygamy has been illegal in Israel since 1977 and carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but authorities generally turn a blind eye. According the report by Arab48 there are 6,200 polygamous families in Israel, occupied Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights. The rate of polygamy, the Israeli authorities say, is much higher than it is in Egypt, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The NBC News reports:

Even a Bedouin member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, has two wives. No Bedouin woman has ever held a political position in Israel, not even on the local level, though the combined Arab political parties have the third-largest party representation in the Knesset. Bedouin village councils are run exclusively by men, many of whom are polygamous. Though Bedouin women can legally drive, attend university, vote and work, they are often pressured by their families not to do anything more than what their husbands expect: stay home, cook, clean and raise children.

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Bedouin men who marry multiple wives only register one marriage with Israeli authorities, making the problem difficult to track. Muslim marriages are carried out by Sharia courts, and multiple marriages by one man are rarely reported to authorities. Thus many married Bedouin women are legally considered single.

Last year Israeli right-wing government passed an $825 million plan to improve the socio-economic status of the Bedouin sector. Part of that plan was the creation of a government committee to eradicate polygamy and help the women and children who are hurt by it.

“Polygamy impacts every aspect of their lives,” said Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor, adding that women in polygamous marriages suffer high rates of sexual assault, domestic violence and depression. Bedouin men typically live with their newest wife, leaving their previous wife to fend for herself and their children. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, just 20 percent of Bedouin women work, so children of such marriages are born into a cycle of poverty. The Bedouin have Israel’s highest rates of unemployment, poverty, and an average birth rate of six children; double that of the general population.

“The impact is much more than 15 indictments,” said Palmor. “Bedouin men are getting the message that polygamy is unacceptable. They need to take responsibility for their families.”

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