Roaming Camels Have Hotline In Southern Israel
Camels cross a highway near the southern Israeli town of Mitzpe Ramon

Roaming Camels Have Hotline In Southern Israel

Residents of Miztpe Ramon mobilize amid spree of deaths caused by road accidents involving camels

Residents of the southern Israeli town of Mitzpe Ramon recently held youth-initiated demonstrations in support of enhanced monitoring of Bedouin-owned camels and the improvement of local road infrastructure. It comes after thirteen-year-old Israeli Liel Almakayes was killed in a car accident caused by a stray camel.

Over the past decade, fifteen Israelis have reportedly been killed and 350 others injured in road collisions involving camels.

The incidence of such cases is now stirring controversy at the political level, as an initiative by the Ministry of Agriculture to place warnings along southern roads—including a phone number to report stray camels—was rejected by Transportation Minister Israel Katz on the grounds that erecting the signs would distract drivers.

In a letter to Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Katz opined that, “reporting a problem that is not directly transport-related does not complement the [Ministry of Transport’s] policy” of monitoring traffic and road safety. In response, Ariel attributed the refusal to discrimination against southern communities.

An additional request by the Ministry of Agriculture to spray pastures on the sides of the roads to prevent camels from congregating was also dismissed, on the basis that Israel’s National Transport Infrastructure Company, Netivei Israel, already does so several times a year.

A blame-game has ensued, with the Ministry of Transportation seemingly transferring responsibility onto the Israeli Police, which it claims has placed “identifying microchips on only a fraction of camels and…fails to do anything about the matter.”

Nevertheless, officials at the Ministry of Transportation recognized the difficulties posed by stray camels, before qualifying to The Media Line that, “the Bedouins own a huge section of land, making it impossible for Netivei Israel to solve the entire problem.” The Ministry noted that efforts have been made to partially improve the situation “by splitting the dangerous Highway 31 from Arad to Netavim in the south into two lanes and placing fences along the way, which makes a significant difference.”

Ariel Ulman, head of the Israeli Camel Breeders Association, stressed to The Media Line the imperative of solving the problem. “These are people’s lives we are talking about,” he affirmed, adding that on February 3 his organization will convey its positions to a parliamentary committee.

For many residents of the south the ordeal over the camels fits into a broader pattern of neglect for regional infrastructure. As transportation officials themselves conceded to The Media Line, “the state needs to strategically allocate tax money, preferring to invest in areas causing higher numbers of accidents which tend to be more congested highways, like those in Israel’s center.”

Claims of dangerous highways are thus widespread, with Meital Yisrael, a Mitzpe Ramon resident, telling to The Media Line that “there is poor lighting on the roads. [The state] is saving electricity at the expense of the next victim.”

But the community “is not prepared to back down,” according to Tali Brill, the communications coordinator for the recent protests. “They have buried their second friend in two months [due to road accidents]. Therefore,” she revealed to The Media Line, “we established a council led by the youth and we held big protests…because not a day passes without animals blocking our unlit roads. And it is not only a local problem [to Mitzpe Ramon]—it is massive and affects the many other towns around us too.”

Brill says that there has been an outpouring of support for the demonstrators and confirmed that the community intends to lobby the government to pass new legislation addressing their demands. In the interim, she vowed that the protests will continue.

For his part, Pini Almakayes, the uncle of deceased Liel, reinforced to The Media Line that, “it is very difficult to see the camels at night and it is just a miracle that more deaths do not occur.… In any case, we do not hear about those injured in the media.”

Almakayes contended that one of the reasons for the perceived mistreatment is that “there is no political power [in the south].” Yet he agreed that “it is wonderful that the young generation is trying to change this and arouse awareness.”

While those who have been lost cannot be reclaimed, the youth of Mitzpe Ramon have taken it upon themselves to engage in a battle for equality, one which they believe is essential for saving lives in the future.

(Daniella P. Cohen is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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