Israeli Bedouins

The Bedouin or Bedu are a grouping of nomadic Arab people who have historically inhabited the desert regions in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and the Levant. The English word bedouin comes from the Arabic badawī, which means “desert dweller”, and is traditionally contrasted with ḥāḍir, the term for sedentary people. Bedouin territory stretches from the vast deserts of North Africa to the rocky sands of the Middle East. They are traditionally divided into tribes, or clans , and share a common culture of herding camels and goats. The vast majority of Bedouin adhere to Islam.


Ninety percent of the Bedouin tribes in the Negev hail from the Hejaz, a region in the north of the Arabian peninsula. Ninety percent of the Negev’s Bedouin population is located in the area between the cities of Beer Sheva, Arad, Dimona and Rahat.

While many Bedouins have abandoned their nomadic and tribal traditions for a modern urban lifestyle, many retain traditional Bedouin culture such as retaining the traditional ʿašāʾir clan structure, traditional music, poetry, dances (such as saas), and many other cultural practices and concepts. Urbanized Bedouins often organize cultural festivals, usually held several times a year, in which they gather with other Bedouins to partake in and learn about various Bedouin traditions—from poetry recitation and traditional sword dances to playing traditional instruments and even classes teaching traditional tent knitting. Traditions like camel riding and camping in the deserts are still popular leisure activities for urbanized Bedouins who live within close proximity to deserts or other wilderness areas.

Ramadan nights festival in Bedouin town of Rahat, Israel (2018) via Kesem HaMidbar:

Between 1968 and 1989, Israel built seven townships in the northeast of the Negev for the Bedouin population, with about half of them relocating to these areas. Others remained in unrecognized villages built without planning which lacked basic services such as electricity and running water. The Israeli government has gradually recognized some of them and taken measures to improve infrastructure and basic services.

The Bedouin population in Israel currently numbers 210,000 persons who live in all regions of the State, most notably in the Negev.
The Bedouin population has increased since the establishment of the State (1948), due to a high natural increase – about 5% – which is unparalleled in Israel, or elsewhere in the Middle East. The rate is high due to a a high fertility rate related to traditional social values regarding size of family and/or tribe as a political advantage, as well as modern health and medical services with easy access, which reduced infant mortality and increased life expectancy, are responsible for this figure.

More than anything else, education can contribute to the integration of the Bedouin into Israeli society. Under the Compulsory Education Law, every Bedouin child is entitled to twelve years of free education and the law is very strictly enforced, at least at the elementary school level. Three factors enhanced implementation: an awareness of the necessity and the benefits of an education as an economic and social-mobility tool; the idleness of children and youngsters in the wake of moving to permanent settlements (they had been the main labor force tending the fields and the livestock); and the establishment of a relatively large number of schools in the scattered locations of the Bedouin.

Within a single generation, the Bedouin of Israel have succeeded in reducing illiteracy from 95% to 25%; those still illiterate are aged 55 and above.

There are about 33 elementary schools, three high schools and three vocational schools for the Bedouin community in the Negev. At the elementary level, with an enrollment of 95%, the school population is made up of equal proportions of boys and girls. But because Bedouin society regards females as inferior and does not encourage them to study, girls make up no more than 10% of the pupils in high schools. At first many teachers had to be brought in from outside the community, today 60 percent of the teaching staff is Bedouin.

All the Bedouin high schools and 60% of the elementary schools in the Negev, are located in the seven Bedouin towns there. Over the past five years, extensive resources have been invested in schools, especially in buildings, services, water pipes, heating and more. Computers and laboratories have also been introduced.

Thirty to fifty percent of the students in elementary schools (depending on location) go on to high school, a ratio similar to that elsewhere in the country’s Arab sector. They attend Bedouin high schools in the Negev and Arab high schools in the central and northern regions of the country.

Some 650 Bedouin – 30% of the Bedouin high school graduates of 1998 – were enrolled as of 2002 in post-secondary education. About 60 percent of them attended teacher training colleges and 40 percent studied at the universities (including the Technological College of Be’er Sheva). In addition, 35 students enrolled in universities abroad, since they did not qualify for admission to Israeli institutions; the universities now tend to ease admission standards for Bedouin students.

The National Health Insurance Law (NHIL) which took effect on January 1, 1996 considerably improved health services for about 30% of the Bedouin population who had not belonged to a sick fund. According to the NHIL, every resident is entitled to a basket of health services provided by clinics, specialists and hospitals.

Mother-and-child care centers provide health education, check-ups monitoring development and immunization. Today, hardly any Bedouin women give birth at home; going to hospital makes the mother eligible for a grant from the National Insurance Institute and provides unaccustomed pampering.

Since 1948, Bedouins have served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in large numbers, mostly in scouting or tracking units. A Bedouin scouting unit was established in 1970 in the IDF’s Southern Command, and similar units are now in other regions. In 1986 a desert-scouting unit was formed and has been stationed near the Gaza Strip more recently. There is a monument honoring Bedouin soldiers’ contribution to Israel and its army in the Galilee. In 2003, the IDF formed several specialized “search & rescue” units to serve the residents of the Arab, Bedouin and Druze communities in Israel.

In most countries in the Middle East the Bedouin have no land rights, only users’ privileges. Under Israeli law, a person who has not registered his/her land in the Land Registry cannot claim ownership; but in the mid 1970s Israel let the Negev Bedouin register their land claims and issued certificates as to the size of the tracts claimed. These certificates served as the basis for the “right of possession” later granted by the government.

In the past, tensions relating to land ownership have led to violence. A solution is now possible, but it requires the willingness and goodwill of both partners.

Tents and light structures (shacks and huts) built illegally are treated forgivingly. But construction of houses of stone or concrete without a building permit is considered an offense, since adequate infrastructure and services cannot be provided. Some 2,000 such locations with buildings already exist, scattered over an area of about 1,000 square kilometers.

In a report from Calcalist, a new plan Israel will resettle half of the Bedouin population living in the south of the country on a 9 billion-new-shekel plan (about 2.48 billion U.S. dollars). According to the plan, the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, affiliated with the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, is expected to approve plans to build some 150,000 housing units.

About 40,000 housing units will be allocated by 2021, and the remaining 110,000 units will be allocated in accordance with demand. Unregulated structures will be rebuilt.

As part of the plan, the authority will also be responsible for the development and infrastructure work, while the construction of the houses will be carried out by the residents. According to the plan, Bedouin residents who will be relocated from their current unrecognized residence will receive a compensation of 250,000 new shekels. Residents who will stay in their rebuilt homes will be compensated by half the amount.

The changes and relocation of the Bedouins, allows the State to improve the living quality of Bedouins to provide them infrastructure, health and education in a close reach within their towns.

Via Jewish Library and Calcalist

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