Warming the hearts and cooling the bodies in the Bedouin community
In the shadow of a raging conflict, where missiles tore through the silent skies, a remarkable story of unity, resilience, and innovation unfolded in the Negev desert. This is the tale of a solar-powered dream, where the Bedouin and Haredi communities, battered by conflict, dared to envisage a future woven together not by fate, but by the sun itself.
Amidst the harsh and unforgiving landscape of the Negev, the first Israel Climate Change conference for Bedouin society in Segev Shalom came to life on December 20. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous war between Israel and Hamas, the conference took on a profound significance. The Bedouin communities in the Negev, their homes pockmarked by missile strikes and without the sanctuary of bomb shelters, faced the brutal realities of a conflict that did not differentiate between combatants and civilians.
A climate of social change amidst conflict
The recent harrowing events from October 7, which saw 24 Bedouins killed and 7 kidnapped, despite their shared Muslim faith with their aggressors, cast a deep and complex shadow over the gathering. The brutality of Hamas’ actions and the sheer number of murdered Bedouin victims created a communal loss and an attitudinal shift regarding their Israeli identity and shared destiny with Jewish Israelis.
In a recent Jerusalem Post article, it was highlighted that the Bedouin community in Israel was profoundly affected by the tragic events of October 7. Foad Al-Zeadna, director of the community center in Rahat, Israel’s largest Bedouin city is experiencing Hamas’ barbarism firsthand, as four members of his family were abducted on October 7. Al-Zeadna believes that the Bedouin community should be seen as partners of the rest of the population.
“It is important that people see the Bedouin community as part of the solution and not as part of the problem.
The conference, while centered on climate change, quickly evolved into something much more. It became a symbol of resilience and a beacon of hope for a better future. The Bedouin attendees, with stories of survival and an unyielding spirit, brought an air of determined optimism to the gathering.
Bridging communities through solar power
Yossi Abramowitz, affectionately known as Mr. Sunshine, championed the initiative. His vision extended beyond the realm of renewable energy; it was about sparking economic growth and empowerment, particularly for the Bedouin community that had been so deeply scarred by the war. “The heads of all the Bedouin municipalities support the development of a solar industry, which will bring investment, jobs, economic justice, and dignity to the Bedouin,” said Yosef Abramowitz, President of the Arava Power Company.
I attended the conference to explore opportunities for my Bedouin friends Hazem and his wife Hanan who live in the unrecognized village of Abu Quidar, just 10 minutes from Segev Shalom.
Hazem, a karate instructor, has been working with me in the NGO Budo for Peace for 18 years and has been at the forefront of promoting coexistence between Bedouin and Jewish youth. Hazem also competed on the Israeli national team in several World Karate Games.
A year ago, his wife Hanan opened the first training studio for Bedouin women in her village and teaches aerobics and wellness to over 100 Bedouin mothers each week. She also initiated a 10-day Bedouin and Jewish girls’ sports camp called One Team in the summer.
Hanan is not new to collaborating with Jewish women to promote well-being in her community and recently hosted the head Haredi women trainer from Bnai Brak’s Haredi LeKetzev organization in her village.
Hanan’s studio has no air-conditioning with temperatures regularly exceeding over 40 degrees. To complicate matters, her village is not on the national electric grid, so to power air-conditioning units, she has only three options: a smelly and noisy petrol generator, an expensive car battery, or a solar power unit on the roof. Hanan’s attendance at the conference was clear and practical; she was in the market for a solar system that could generate enough electricity to air-condition her 70 sq meter make-shift studio and provide power for a Watergen unit that miraculously produces water from the air.
The conference attendees of about 300 people were mainly Bedouin officials, Bedouin businessmen, Bedouin women, a few Jewish businessmen, and non-profits dealing with Bedouin society.
There was one man who stood out from the crowd. A young Haredi (ultra-orthodox) man in his 30s, dressed in his black coat, big black kippah and beard, his tzitzit and payot hanging out of his sides. His name was Menachem, from the ultra-orthodox Gur sect from a religious suburb in Bet Shemesh.
A father of five children all under the age of 10, and a second-year student of electrical engineering, he runs his own solar panel business for the Haredi community. He was at the conference to network and find business opportunities in a new market.
I wondered if living in Bet Shemesh (House of Sun) had any kabbalistic meaning to his choice of career.
I introduced myself along with Hazem and Hanan and within minutes Menachem’s curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit compelled him to visit Hazem’s village to explore the possibility of a new business.
Menachem’s unanticipated journey to the Bedouin village
His arrival in the village, a patchwork of makeshift homes and a mosque brimming with untapped potential, marked a stark contrast to his life in Bet Shemesh. Yet, Menachem was undeterred by the differences. He unpacked a drone, a ladder, a measuring tape – tools that were about to play a crucial role in a new narrative of hope and collaboration.
Menachem’s “fiddling” on the roof with innovation and tradition
Dressed in his traditional attire, Menachem became a symbol of innovation within the village. As his tzitzit swayed in the desert wind, he expertly maneuvered the drone over Hanan’s studio.
As in the biblical Jacob’s dream, Menachem climbed the ladder ready and willing to fulfill God’s plan for him. As Hanan watched in awe she was also reminded of Jacob’s ladder which in Islam represents following the straight path. Reaching the top, he moved deftly on the sun-drenched roof, taking measurements and photos, calculating the direction and angle of the sun, all the while fiddling with his iPhone, maneuvering his drone, and managing phone calls from other clients.
It was breezy on the roof, and as his tallit fluttered in the wind, it was reminiscent of a fiddler on the roof but in this scene, Menachem was dancing between imaginary solar panels.
Hanan’s vision for health and empowerment
Hanan, her aspirations intertwined with Menachem’s work, watched with anticipation. Her aerobics studio, a pioneering space for Bedouin women’s health, stood on the cusp of a transformative change. Facing three times the national average of diabetes in her community, the prospect of solar-powered air conditioning offered a promising future, transforming the studio into a welcoming space for health and empowerment.
Coexistence fueled by the sun
The collaboration between Menachem and Hanan transcended mere business; it represented a powerful symbol of harmony and mutual respect. The solar panels they envisioned were more than just a source of energy; they symbolized a new era of cooperation across cultural divides, kindled in a land where adversity is met with resilience and innovation.
Cultural, social, and technological miracles for 2024
As the world welcomes the new year, and our war-torn region prays for a year of stability and peace, the unfolding story in Abu Quidar stands as a testament to cultural, social, and technological possibilities, what some people would call modern-day miracles. The vision of ultra-Orthodox men providing a sustainable power source to create fresh water from the air, and a cool space for the empowerment of Bedouin women is a remarkable intersection of faith, innovation, and community spirit.
May the energy created by Menachem and Hanan’s positive collaboration empower Israel’s shared society toward a happier, healthier, and more peaceful New Year.