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Today’s participant blog post comes from Rachel Iroff, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Rachel's group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was taken from Rachel’s personal blog.

“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”

~Ben Okri, Nigerian author

Israel is a land of stories. Stories of immigration, homelands, hardships, victories, love, war, poverty and success. Stories and history intertwine with each other to make this land flow rich with Nescafé and Sachlav.

The main story most commonly discussed (argued) in Israel is the Arab-Israeli conflict, but there are many narratives in this conflict that are often overlooked. One that has found its way into my heart is that of an Arab group called the Bedouins.

The Bedouins are traditionally a nomadic group who live in the Negev desert. When Israel became a state and country borders were created, some Bedouins were living on the Israeli side and on the Jordan side. The Bedouins who happened to be living in the new State of Israel in 1949 were forcibly moved from their homes into “temporary” camps…and have since lived there because they are not legally allowed to move. There are three types of places Bedouins are allowed to live in the Negev: government built townships, recognized villages, and unrecognized villages.

The Israeli government built townships for some Bedouins during 1968-1989. These towns were meant to be like any other Israeli town, but were not given the same amount of infrastructure for roads or often not connected to a sewage system. We visited the township of Hura, which has multiple Bedouin tribes living in the same town. This is an issue because even though some Bedouin tribes get along peacefully with each other, others have long held tensions that run deep. Original residents of these towns were given land to build houses on, but now land and housing is so scarce that many children of these residents are forced to live elsewhere. The Israeli government is attempting to move even more Bedouin families into these already overcrowded towns.

We visited the township of Segev Shalom and they showed us incredible hospitality by giving us homestays with local families. Even in this government built township, homes were built with obviously less quality materials than other Israeli homes. Also missing was the ever present bomb shelter that I had become accustomed to. In the morning when the kids were trying to go to school, there came torrents of rain. In other houses in the world, parents load their kiddos up with rain boots, jacket, etc,etc. In this small part of the world, the kids couldn’t go to school because the roads were too flooded and the buses couldn’t get through. What did they miss that day in school? The problems keep growing with no one providing solutions.

Recognized villages are villages that existed on their own and the Israeli government decided to recognize them as a village, but with different legal rights than a township.These villages have beautiful people living in crumbling houses, driving on crumbling roads, dealing with crumbling futures. These villages have to go to through piles of bureaucracy to fix any issues with infrastructure, which for residents of one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world is utterly ridiculous to me. But as my very wise mother reminded me, people in my own Tennessean backyard are also living in crumbling houses.

Unrecognized villages are equivalent to living in a third world country. Families are raised in houses that are little more than an aluminum sided shack. We visited Umm al-Hiran and were treated to a heartbreaking story over delicious Arab coffee (even when they have almost nothing, the incredible Arab hospitality never wavers). Umm al-Hiran is scheduled to be bulldozed…to build a Jewish settlement called Hiran. Looking around, I saw hundreds of other hills that could be turned into towns. Hundreds of opportunities for peaceful neighbors. Hundreds of opportunities to “make the desert bloom.” Instead, the desert will be filled with piles of rubble.

The Israeli government has stated that they own the land and the Bedouins have settled illegally. Residents of Umm al-Hiran have stated that they were moved there during 1948- The War of Independence. Whichever story is true or not true, there are still families being forced out of their homes by bulldozers. This is not ok. The new Hiran could easily include Bedouin and Jewish residents. It could easily be a sign of peace and acceptance instead of destruction.

Why tell you about a small population of people in a small country? Because it’s important to broaden your world. You may not have a connection to the Bedouins of the Negev, and that is ok. What is not ok is you reading a three page blog and not researching more. I have one opinion, I heard one side of the story, and I am emotionally attached to this story. You have the responsibility to educate yourself, provide a different point of view, and let us both grow. This blog is not meant to start arguments, but it is meant to force you to be uncomfortable with how one group is being treated. Education is the powerful agents of change, and you can take a part in conquering fears and making hearts bigger.

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