Before coming to Israel, I had almost no knowledge about the Bedouin population. As far as I knew, they were a very small community that practiced Islam. Fast forward one month, and I have been fortunate to meet this community and begin to understand the unique Bedouin lifestyle.
During Birthright, we stayed in a Bedouin style village. Naively, I believed that this was the reality for the entire community, though I later realized that this was constructed for tourists. I believed in the communal housing and the off the grid lifestyle in the middle of the desert that was depicted.
During my first week interning at Eretz-Ir, a non-profit dedicated to helping local residents create the cities and towns they want to live in, I visited the Bedouin town of Arara. Eretz-Ir works with all residents eager to improve their surroundings, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. One of its programs is called “Working Together”, which aims to create quality employment options for 18-25 year olds throughout the Negev. One of the many partners in this initiative is an employment center in Arara, and we were going to visit its coordinator.
Driving through the streets, I noticed people staring at the car. I ignored this and moved along. I noticed the dilapidated structures alongside mansions. A beautiful traffic circle with dolphin statues, next to a wasteland. And multiple Mexican restaurants! When I got out of the car, I suddenly felt the stares again. I completely understood their curiosity. A young female walks into their community in a pair of jeans, black t-shirt, ankles showing and exposed long hair. I stuck out. I wasn’t worried about my safety, but rather that by walking through their city center I was somehow showing disrespect. I didn’t want to do anything that would be seen as a sign of insult. I was the one invading their space, and was my duty to make sure I was the most considerate.
We met the coordinator, Dua, who was thrilled to have visitors and eager to show off her town. She brought us to the local marketplace, and helped my colleague, a religious Jewish woman, pick out a beautiful dress. We then went to her office, where she told us about her family, and her work.
She told us with a smile about how her father was originally conflicted about her desire to learn in university, but how he now takes immense pride in her work. That in one local family, there were over 100 doctors (Mind you, this family, numbers about 4,000 people!) And the told us of the young people she works with, whose futures have changed forever due to having the opportunity of connecting to the center, receiving guidance, training, and eventually – a career. For example, a young man with a troubled past, who had never held a job. He’s now a bus driver for Egged, with a steady salary and a pension plan, and hope for his future.
After about two hours in Arara, we headed back to Be’er Sheva. I tried to process and understand what I had just seen. Many questions ran through my head. Do the people of Arara enjoy living this type of life? Do they feel forced to conform to the norms of the community? How does their world compare to those around them, in Be’er Sheva, in Rahat, in unrecognized villages? Do all Bedouin towns feature the sense of community and togetherness I experienced in Arara?
The visit I had in Arara is one I will never forget. It highlighted a different life from my own, and I am so excited to learn more.