At the Start of Ramadan, Arab Society Benefits from a Succes...

At the Start of Ramadan, Arab Society Benefits from a Successful Vaccination Campaign while Bedouin Communities Lag Behind

April 29, 2021

vaccine-lineIn a symbolic indicator of Israel’s successful vaccination campaign, starting this week, Israelis will not need to wear masks in outdoor settings.  COVID-19 cases are falling dramatically in general Israeli society and Arab society: since the peak of the pandemic in Israel in January, the daily number of diagnosed patients in Israel has declined by 98% and 87% fewer Israelis are dying from COVID-19. Yet as Israel slowly begins to move toward a post-COVID reality, its Arab citizens are still starting their second Ramdan and wedding season in a pandemic. A close examination reveals that COVID-19 remains a grave threat in portions of Arab society and that low vaccination rates present significant challenges, particularly within Negev Bedouin communities. The Ministry of Health has warned that Ramadan and wedding season may lead to an increase in cases in Arab communities, particularly in places where vaccination rates remain low.  

As of the last IATF COVID-19 update in late February, the gap between the vaccination rate among the general public and Arab society had been gradually narrowing due to information campaigns and increased accessibility. Since then, the percent of vaccinated Arab citizens increased, but the gap in the vaccination rate remains consistent: In late February, 35% of Arab citizens had been vaccinated compared to 49% of the general population. As of April 12, 51% of Arab citizens have been vaccinated compared to 65% of the general population. However, a larger portion of Arab society is under the age of 16 than Jewish society, meaning a substantial portion are not yet eligible for the vaccine.  

Public health officials are pleased with the progress of the vaccination campaign within Arab society. They ascribe the success to three main policies: 1) A widespread information and awareness campaign; 2) Setting a vaccination rate benchmark as a prerequisite to in-person schools reopening; 3) Requiring business owners and employees to vaccinate in order to open and operate regularly. 

Although continued social distancing, vaccination campaigns and vigilance are crucial, Arab society is much safer and at less of a risk of spreading COVID-19 than last Ramadan. This year, the Ministry of Health worked with Arab society to prepare; a spokesperson explained, “We held meetings with Muslim clerics, heads of local authorities, and businessmen from the Arab society, in order to listen to their proposals, update them on existing guidelines, and support them in circulating the information among the Arab society.” 

Persistent Low Vaccination Rate in Bedouin Society 

Looking to Ramdan, Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben Gurion University’s school for public health explained, “The situation needs to improve especially in the Bedouin community.”  

As exhibited in the chart below, the percentage of residents of the major Bedouin communities who were vaccinated increased by only 5-10% from late February to mid-April compared to 16% among the general Arab population. The rate remains low due to misinformation, lack of trust, and limited accessibility. While a youthful population plays a role it does not explain this wide of a gap.  

Percent of residents of major planned Negev Bedouin communities who received at least one shot (from the Health Ministry COVID-19 Dashboard


% with at least one shot by February 26 

% with least one shot by April 19 

Tel Sheva 















Note: According to the Online Database on Bedouin Society in the Negev, as of January 21, 2021, 51% of Negev Bedouin are under age 18, making the majority ineligible for the vaccine at this time.  

According to Kiki Aharonovitz, program manager for the Mandel Foundation in the Negev, the gap in the vaccination rate between the planned Bedouin towns and the unrecognized villages is even more glaring and of greater concern. As of February 20, Aharonovitz estimated that only 1.5% of Bedouin in unrecognized villages had been vaccinated, based on research conducted among the four largest tribes, which total to approximately 50,000 people.  

Largely disconnected from Israeli infrastructure and broader society, confusion, misinformation, and suspicion regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine are commonplace.  Due to this isolation, mechanisms to apply pressure, such as keeping schools or workplaces closed, are also not possible. A wedding in an unrecognized village near Rahat in early April became a super-spreader event, infecting 100+ people. 

With Israel gradually returning to normal, and the recent elections and the crime and violence wave dominating news cycle in Arab society, vaccination campaigns within Bedouin communities have dwindled. Looking to the spring and summer, it is likely that COVID-19 will become less of an issue in Arab communities in the north and center but remain a monumental challenge in the Negev. However, as variants gain a foothold in Israel, the path forward from COVID-19 remains unpredictable.  

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