Head of a Bedouin town in southern Israel was arrested on charges of practice of marrying multiple spouses or polygamy, a court said Monday.
Ahmad al-Assad, who heads the town of Lakiya in the Negev, also faces charges of domestic violence, invasion of privacy and witness tampering. He was to be sent to eight days of house arrest despite police objections, but his release will be delayed in order to allow an appeal to be filed.
His wife, who filed the complaint after her alleged attack, was transferred to a battered women's shelter.
Al-Assad denies the allegations and his attorney claimed he was a respected member of his community with no criminal past.
Plural marriages have been illegal in Israel since 1977, but some 20% of Bedouin households are polygamous, according to government estimations.
"It’s been difficult to enforce the law because we’re talking about a traditional society, which for decades has carried on with their daily lives without (outside intervention),” former Justice Ministry Director-General Emi Palmor said after publishing an extensive report on the matter in 2018.
“The issue with polygamy is that it borders on a religious custom, so how can we get involved? I think the state avoided dealing with this because it felt that it would be treading on very intimate grounds. However, in the end, in the past few years we’ve come to the realization that we must enforce the law,” she said.
There are some 250,000 Bedouins living primarily in the south of the country.