My two encounters with Israel’s Bedouin Community
By Demi Levitch
It is June 1, 2015 and the seventh day of Taglit-Birthright. Today, Bus 879 is headed to the heart of the Negev, where will spend the next two days in what is advertised on the Taglit website as an immersive experience in the Bedouins.
Greeted by three young men adorned in Nike tennis shoes and khaki colored head wraps, our group is led throughout a myriad of brightly patterned awnings, one of which will suffice as our housing for the night. My bus’ tent is enormous, accompanied by massive stone columns, intricately woven floor mats, and to my group’s pleasure, plenty of electrical outlets.
After setting down our belongings, our group is guided back amongst the other Birthright-goers and the theme park-esque activities continue. We partake in the heralded desert camel ride, gorge ourselves on a traditional Bedouin meal, and end the night listening to the stories from community members concerning Bedouin culture, history, and hospitality. Before we turn in to our circus-sized oasis, several of the Israeli soldiers on the trip help build a campfire outside the tent. As songs and jokes are exchanged and my roasted marshmallow reaches that coveted golden brown, I can’t help but smile at my Bedouin experience.
Fast forward a bit and it is now July 23. For the first time since that fateful trip in early June, I find myself returning to the Bedouins, this time accompanied by the ten young adults participating in the NIF’s New Generation Fellowship. In exchange for a promise to capture the day on my camera, I’ve been allowed to join the group as they learn about land rights and economic and social justice within the Negev.
Within thirty seconds of arriving at an unrecognized village, I realize my second Bedouin experience will be an entirely different visit. In contrast to Birthright’s bellowing calico tents, now I am surrounded by dozens of corroded, microscopic shacks, abhorrent in condition and lacking virtually any modern day amenities. This time, there are no campfires, plushly-lined sleeping bags, or gleefully singing teenagers. Instead, the village is deserted. Only the occasional grunts of the livestock from a neighboring shanty indicate any sign of vitality.
At first, I was troubled by the differences between my two visits to the Negev. How could one representation of the Bedouins differ so severely from another? Was one more accurate than the other? However, after much consideration, I’ve come to realize the varying layers between the two experiences are simply indicative of Israeli society as a whole.
To say that Israel is vastly complex would be an understatement: I have never been in an area characterized by so many varying ideas and viewpoints. Growing up in primarily Conservative Kansas, whenever an issue of public concern would arise, the dominant party would propose a solution with little room for dissent, which ultimately hindered the capacity for collaboration and innovative thinking. But in Israel, this tendency is almost nonexistent. Whether it is the cultures, the politics, the faiths, or anything in between, no social issue in Israel is black and white and no problem has one clear solution. Instead, without one obvious strategy for achieving social justice, civil society must come together to collaborate, brainstorm, create, and achieve. To me, this is what makes the work of Shatil and the country so beautiful. Immersed in a plethora of varying thoughts and ideas, Israel must accommodate a striking range of personalities, all of which combine to make the country what it is today.