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Reflections on visiting the Bedouins of the Negev

This blog is written by Genna, a Yahel fellow living in Lod.


As a girl who has grown up in mostly suburbs in my life, I have not had a lot of experience

with the desert, and the hardships that come along with desert life. Now that I have been in

Israel for months, and have had the opportunity to explore the Negev, I have a new

appreciation and understanding for the desert.


On our first trip to the desert we went to a campsite called Raz Hasita which was about 30

minutes south of Be’er Sheva. I was the designated driver for our apartment and I never had

the chance to drive through such a vast desert before so this first experience was absolutely

mind blowing. Whilst driving to our destination, we drove through Jerusalem and alongside the

dead sea. With the beautiful sea on our left and the vast desert on my right, it was a truly

magnificent experience that filled me with a sense of awe about nature. Spending the first

weekend in the desert, I noticed the harsh temperature contrast between the daytime and

nighttime and felt thankful that I had a room to sleep in that night to protect me from the cold.

It was not until my second camping trip to the desert that I had a new appreciation for people

who endured these harsh conditions year round. With no access to running water or a kitchen,

like I had in my first Negev trip, it was a very different experience. All we had was a tent and my

friend Aliza had an amazing portable kitchen. The location where we camped on this trip was

only a few kilometers from where Raz Hasita was located but it felt like a whole new world. This

campsite was located in a small crater that overlooked a larger canyon. It felt like we were the

only people in the world because no matter where you looked, you could not see any sign of

human existence. It felt like we were alone with nature and it was a sense of calm that I had not

experienced before. It also made understand why people decide to move to the desert and

why others do not want to ever leave. With this understanding in my mind as we drove back

through the desert, I noticed that there were small little villages that I knew of as Bedouin

villages. At this point in time I did not know, I would have the opportunity, a few months later

togo and visit two of these villages and learn about their society, and their bureaucratic

struggles.

A home in the unrecognized village of Az-Zarnouq.

I learnt that there were two types of Bedouin Villages; recognized and unrecognized. The

recognized villages were recognized by the government while the unrecognized were not. The

first village that we went to was a recognized village called Segev Shalom and we had one of

the local tour guides lead us around on a tour. Some of the main things that I learnt about this

particular town was that there was an abundance of health services, stores and schools in

relation to how many people lived in the town. The reason for this is because Segev Shalom

acts as a place for those who are in unrecognized Bedouin villages to come and access

resources that are not allowed in their villages. People from Bedoun Villages around Segev

Shalom come together in this one place where they can go to the doctor, take their kids to

school and go grocery shopping. As I am hearing about life in Segev Shalom, I am wondering

what it is really like to be in a town where you have to fight for the right to build permanent

infrastructure and what the unrecognized town have to go through. Many of the questions I

had were soon answered after we went to an unrecognized village called Az-Zarnouq. As we

were driving to this town, I already noticed many differences between the two villages: the first

being the fact that there were no paved roads to this village and that there was very little permanent housing. I, of course, found out that the reason for this is that the government does

not give any support to these villages, and instead actively tries to prevent any infrastructure

from being built here. When we first arrived, we met two members of the community who

showed around and were extremely welcoming to us outsiders coming into their homes and

exploring their village. I started to understand that this village is not allowed to build anything

without a permit, which the government will not give because in the 1950’s there was a new

law that made Bedouin villages illegal. Currently, the villages looks like a collection of shacks

with tin roofs. However once inside the village, you see that within the tin shacks, there is a

beautifully decorated interior. Each home that we walked by had beautiful white tiles on the

floor, indoor plumbing and electricity and with beautiful pieces of furniture for the whole family

to sit on and enjoy time together. It was frustrating for me to hear from the people in this village

about their desire to just build one house, or add an extra room for a sibling and his new wife. We were shown a recent house that was demolished and it was heart wrenching to see a family’s home turned into rubble after hearing about how important family is to the Bedouin

people. I knew that if the government were to allow these villages to exist, that they would

have built beautiful houses, playgrounds, stores and schools.


I wish I had an opportunity to also speak to the government officials who are in charge of

demolition in the Bedouin villages. I would like to ask them what the significance of this land

is to the Israeli people and if the government has tried to speak to the Bedouin people. I hope

to learn more about this topic and hopefully understand more about the politics behind the

actions of the Israeli government.

Children playing outside in the unrecognized village of Az-Zarnouq.