Shalom Weil

Mourning with our Bedouin blood brothers

At the first consolation tent, a line of barefoot men, eyes red from crying, stand outside in the sun, waiting for us
A view of homes in the Bedouin township of Abu Talul, southeast of Beersheba in Israel's southern district. October 14, 2023 (Yuri Cortez / AFP)
A view of homes in the Bedouin township of Abu Talul, southeast of Beersheba in Israel's southern district. October 14, 2023 (Yuri Cortez / AFP)

These dark days, I am filling the role of bereavement and casualty official for the southern district school system. I contact Joma, the impressive superintendent for the Bedouin schools in the Negev, to ask him how I can pay a condolence call to the Bedouin community. I want to pay my respects to the Bedouin schoolchildren murdered during the intense rocket attacks the week before.

Joma listens for a moment. Then says emphatically, you must visit them! It is very important to them. It will be an honor for them. I’m coming to Beersheva right now to take you in my jeep.

We set off, driving on winding roads, down dirt paths, climbing between hills and scattered huts. On the way, Joma explains to me that Jews and Bedouin have a blood pact dating back to the days of the Palmach, Israel’s pre-state fighting force. And today, he says, this alliance is strengthened.

We arrive at the first mourning tent, set up between tins huts and sheep. A line of barefoot men, eyes red from crying, are standing outside in the sun, waiting for us. Salaam alaikum, handshakes, blessings, and a hand on the heart to signify pain and consolation.

Joma and I pay our respects sitting cross-legged on the colorful woven carpet, while the mourners are on their knees. One of the children approaches us with bottles of water, the second brings dates, and the third comes with a finjan pot of bitter black coffee.

I hear about the two children killed by a rocket blast that hit them in the hut where they were playing. Where was the hut, I ask. Here, and they point to the square outside the mourning tent where we are sitting.

We get back in the jeep, and Joma explains to me that mine was the only visit from a state representative to the bereaved families, so they are all very touched, even though the traditional three days of mourning have already passed. It dawns on me that the entire State of Israel is resting on my shoulders and I am its representative.

A member of the Bedouin community of Arara in the Negev Desert stands next to vehicles destroyed in a rocket attack fired from the Gaza Strip on October 14, 2023 (Yuri Cortez / AFP)

We travel to the next mourning tent, and to the one after that. From there we drive to a more settled village, arriving at the mourning tent where the council head, three sheikhs and the qadi religious judge are standing outside waiting for us, while the mourners wait standing inside, their red eyes full of painful tears. And with all the pain, I cannot ignore their pride that a representative of the state has come to honor them, and also the moving words repeated over and over – words of faith in the Creator of the world. “Kul maktub.” Everything is written.

One of the sheikhs asks permission to sit next to me. In broken Hebrew, he tells me of the horrors Hamas committed that cursed Saturday. One woman from the community was working out in the fields, dressed in her long black traditional, modest robe. Hamas terrorists shot 42 bullets into her and then further mutilated her body, he tells me. They found her lying like that and brought her to burial as well.

I see that you too are a religious person, he says. Do such actions respect our faith in Allah? These are animals, he concludes. Inhuman animals of prey.

At the sixth mourning tent, I was already tired and full of water and coffee. But nothing prepared me for what I saw there. Outside the house were two overturned, charred vehicles. When a rocket hit them, they burst into flames, killing the little girl who was playing nearby. The mourning tent literally faces out onto the spot where the missile landed, and the damage is visible to every visitor who comes to comfort the mourners. The father looks at me, pained and drawing some consolation from his remaining children, who sit with him. Silence prevails.

Joma gives me a lift back to my car in Beersheva, and just as we’re parting there’s a siren. We get out of the car and prostrate ourselves on the ground. Another missile hits one of the scattered Bedouin communities. This time there are no casualties.

About the Author
Shalom Weil is the CEO of Yesodot – The Center for Torah and Democracy, and the founding head of Pelech Ort High School for boys in Jerusalem. Shalom has an MBA from Hebrew University and an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School as well as several years of religious studies in Yeshivat Ma'ale Gilboa, and leadership programs Avney Rosha, Mandel and Wexner.