MKs, PA Seek to End Arab ‘Beggar Boys’ Phenomenon

Ramallah. Photo by Flash90
Ramallah. (Flash90)

A unique meeting between Israeli MKs and Palestinian Authority parliament members took place in Ramallah, as lawmakers on both sides sought to develop a plan to deal with the long-time phenomenon of children from Palestinian Authority areas begging for change at intersections in Israel. Participating in the meeting on the Israeli side were MK Zohar Bahloul (Zionist Camp) and MK Yifat Sasa Bitton (Kulanu), among others.

Israeli drivers, especially in the north and in Yerushalayim, are often faced with heartbreaking, if annoying, attempts by poorly-dressed waifs to beg for change or to try to sell some trinkets as they wait at a red light. The children are usually part of an organized group that is transported into Israel, and are paid a tiny hourly “wage” out of the money they collect by the ringleaders of the group. Most of the children are between the ages of five to 17, with an emphasis on the younger children, whom the organizers believe Israelis are more likely to give money to.

Authorities in Israel have been aware of this phenomenon for years, but have generally done nothing about it. According to Bahloul, “anyone who drives in northern Israel or in the Triangle [an area of Israeli Arab towns in the north] is faced with the painful scene of children standing in the blazing heat or freezing cold for long hours collecting from drivers or pedestrians. The time has come for us to work together to save these children from this awful fate.” The fact that parliamentarians from Israel and the PA were working together on the issue “is very significant, and shows that we can solve joint problems in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, even in an era when division and distrust are growing.”

Sasa-Bitton said that the government would raise the issue in the coming weeks. “We will set up a joint task force with the PA. Beyond the humanitarian issue, there is also a security issue involved here. The PA must take responsibility for its children.” With that, she added, “according to Israeli welfare law, the state must provide assistance to all children in need, even if they are not Israeli.”