Bombs, Bedouins, and Bikinis – Among the Challenges of Israel

June 8, 2015


Israeli Negev Bedouins are the fastest growing population in the world and the Islamic Socialist Movement’s influence among them is strong.

Suleiman the Magnificent reached greatness when his Ottoman Empire controlled everything from what would be today Vienna, to Istanbul, to Syria to Yemen, and everything between. 

Arabs and Jews lived in the Middle East area which was called Palestine.  Some worshiped many gods; some followed the Torah;   after Jesus Christ some were Christians; after Muhammad some were Muslims.  Cities were Damascus, Jerusalem, Bagdad and more.  Nation states did not exist. There was never a Palestine State.   Successive rulers that controlled the region included Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Byzantines, and the Ottoman Empire.   

Ottomans had ruled for centuries when Arabian King Hussein guardian of Mecca and Medina;   wanted an Arab state without Ottoman control.   

WWI started and Lord Kitchener appealed to King Hussein for help.   The King negotiated for an independent Arab Kingdom.  Lawrence of Arabia (British Captain T.E. Lawrence) was famous for his war role against the Ottomans in the Middle East.   Lawrence met with Hussein, and they agreed to fight together.  Hussein’s sons Ali, Abdullah, Feisal, and Zeid became fighting commanders in the war.

Lawrence of Arabia Brilliant Flamboyant

When the Allies won WWI, new countries were formed in Europe and in the Middle East.    Under the Sykes Picot Agreement, United Kingdom and France divided the Palestine area into Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.   The Balfour Declaration promised a Jewish homeland in the territory under British control.  King Hussein believed each of his 4 sons would control the new Arab areas.  To accommodate this, the promised Jewish homeland was divided into Israel and Jordan.  Jordan was for the 4th son. 

Bedouins lived in Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria; each eventually became recognized states.  With ancient customs, cultures, and traditions; Bedouins were nomadic, divided into tribes as warriors, camel breeders, herders, and poets.   The camel saddle was invented by Bedouins. 

During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 Israeli Negev Bedouins fled to Jordan and Egypt.  The Negev was nationalized and declared a military zone owned by the state.  A government permit is required to build.   Jewish cities and Arab cities are established.   Bedouin unauthorized houses or ramshackle tents are off the government grid.   They do not receive electricity, roads, or water, and by choice remain largely undereducated.  

The Islamic Socialist movement among Bedouins has become strong and continues to grow.   Many Negev Bedouins live at the low end of the socio economic scale, and have begun to self identify with Palestinians and anti Israel sentiment. They cling to tribal traditions.  Shiria Law and polygamy are practiced.  Women are the property of men, and wear hijab dress with head scarves; women cannot keep money they earn.  Roughly 200,000 Bedouins live in the Israeli Negev Desert.  It is the fastest growing population in the world; doubling every 15 years.      

The Negev borders Gaza.  Bombs and rockets fire from Gaza by Hamas to kill Israelis.   Border towns like Sderot are so close to Gaza they cannot be protected by Iron Dome, because it needs time to function.   A 15 second warning announces incoming bombs.  Every home, school, hospital, shop, playground, and bus stop has a bomb shelter. 

Exploded bombs and rockets in Sderot

It costs $50,000 per Iron Dome launch.   If the bomb is heading for an unpopulated area, Iron Dome does not launch.   Bedouins that live in unrecognized areas are not on the radar for Iron Dome and they have been killed and injured by incoming bombs. 

Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, lived and died in the Negev.  He believed the Negev was the future of Israel.  The Israeli Government works to bring the reluctant Bedouin population into mainstream society.

The Prawer – Begin Plan aimed to resettle 40,000 indigenous Bedouin in government designed towns and give them compensation for their land.   Towns would provide legal ownership of housing, electricity, water, education, job training, public transportation, infrastructure, medical facilities and more.   The plan was attacked from the right and the left.  It has been shelved.

Israeli Defense Force is building a military training facility for more than 30,000 soldiers which will move operations from Tel Aviv to the Negev.    A civilian city is being built with family housing, shopping center, schools, hospital, and a food production facility.   A goal is to integrate Bedouin workers at the military facility and into the city. 

Ben Gurion University has 6 campuses in the Negev, and is a major center for teaching and research with over 20,000 students from Israel and the world.  Bedouins are students and workers at the University, and it is hoped their numbers will increase. 

On a recent trip to Israel and the Negev with the Middle East Forum; I walked along the beach in Tel Aviv.  There were West Bank women in head scarves and full black hajib dress walking their children in the Mediterranean Sea getting soaked to the knees.   Simultaneously on the same beach there were suntanned women in brightly colored bikinis playing with beach balls.  This was a visual snapshot of the complex challenges facing Israel today.

Copyright ©2015



Darlene Casella was before retirement an English teacher, a stockbroker, and president/owner of a small corporation.  She lives in La Quinta, California and can be reached at darlenecasella @ msn.com