May 23, 2024

The hospital waiting room was quiet on Sunday: There was no crowd of relatives, no flood of patients. Israel’s air defenses had just fended off a large-scale Iranian attack, with only one serious casualty recorded.

But there was no sense that a crisis had been averted outside the pediatric intensive care unit at Soroka Medical Center in southern Israel’s city of Beersheba. Instead, tension filled the air until the doors to the ward swung open and a gasping mother stumbled out, her face contorted. Then raw emotion quickly took its place as she crumbled into a chair, crying.

While Israel suffered little in the way of significant damage overnight, this one family was dealt a devastating blow. Amina al-Hasoni, 7, was clinging to life — the sole serious casualty of the Iranian barrage. And were it not for systemic inequities in Israel, her relatives said, maybe she too could have been spared.

There are roughly 300,000 Arab Bedouins in the Negev desert. About a quarter of them live in villages that are not recognized by Israeli officials. Without state recognition, those communities have long suffered from a lack of planning and basic services like running water, sewers and electricity. And few have access to bomb shelters, despite repeated requests to the state.

The Hasoni family lives in one such community, sharing a hilltop in the Negev village of al-Fur’ah with a plot of disconnected houses. When rocket warning sirens went off on Saturday night, Amina’s uncle Ismail said he felt stuck — there was nowhere to go.

Booms overhead signaled air defenses intercepting missiles before there was a big explosion. Then he heard a woman screaming — his sister — and “I started running,” he said.

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