Introduction / History As to their language, the Bedouin of Israel speak a dialect of Palestinian Arabic. They emply a hard 'g' where Galilee Arabs use a 'k' and urban Israeli Arabs use an epiglottal stop. So for instance, urban Arabic in Israel refers to Jerusalem as "Il 'uds." Galilee Arabs will say, "Il Kuds." Bedouin Arabic, it is called "Il Guds."
Where are they located? The Bedouin of Israel are located primarily in the southern part, in the Negev Desert. The heaviest concentration is near Beer Sheva, Arad and Dimona, in an area once known as the Siyag region. Right after Israel became a nation, all the Bedouin were rounded up in this region, and put under military rule. They were shot if they tried to resume their nomadic ways and if they tried to leave the Siyag. This lasted until the late 60s, when the military rule was lifted, and the government started implementing the reservation system of 'recognized' towns, coaxing Bedouin to move into these towns. It was very uncomfortable for Bedouins as they are tribal people and want to live in their tribes, which are extended families, rather than to live next to other tribes. It is forbidden for the women to be seen with men of other tribes, so it creates tension. Also, true Bedouins do not want to relinquish their claims to their land that Israel now claims belongs to her. So Bedouins who refuse to go to recognized towns, like reservations, are deemed to be living illegally in the desert, and their villages are called 'illegal.'
What are their lives like? Bedouin men seem to find jobs in Jewish towns; in security, in the military, in construction, in menial jobs. In the desert, in the 'illegal' settlements, women may do some herding, and other traditional activities. When women who are 'true' Bedouin (originally from Saudi Arabia) leave their tribes/villages, they have to be covered completely, except their eyes. Nowadays, some Bedouin women are allowed to get a high school diploma and go on to college at Ben Gurion U. in Beer Sheva, however it is tricky, as Bedouin society is very sex-segregated. They are not allowed to talk to boys unless they are related/from their tribe. It would be easier if Bedouins had access to gender-segregated education and bussing; then families would be more willing to send their daughters to school. What happens to the girl brings shame on the family. If a girl speaks to a strange man, or is seen doing something like that, she brings shame on her family/tribe, and this weakens the tribe's power (honor) in Bedouin society. Thus, Bedouin women's behavior is closely watched, and closely proscribed by Bedouin social codes. Some women have gone on to obtain college degrees, despite the obstacles.
Their lives are in transition now, as they have left behind camels, generally, and the men now drive automobiles. They are no longer nomads traveling across the desert, but instead are being made to be somewhat settled in permanent dwellings and adapt to a modern cash economy of Israel. More modern Bedouin women may be seen with only hijab vs. a full burka.
Some Bedouin men serve in the IDF. They can be used also there as interpreters and trackers. They know the desert very well. According to one Jewish IDF soldier, the border patrol lets Bedouins smuggle things in and out of Israel as long as weapons are not involved. They were known for smuggling drugs and also trafficking of women. In recent times Israel received negative attention for its human trafficking record, so much of the trafficking stopped. Some Bedouins also used to help African refugees get across the border illegally.
Some African refugees purport that the Bedouins of the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt) have slave camps in the Sinai, where they hold refugees hostage until their families send exorbitant amounts of money; then they release the captives and let them go into Israel. The slave camps are run by a Bedouin mafia of sorts.
In the 1950s in Israel there was a major shortage of meat in the new nation of Israel; it was the Bedouins who smuggled meat in that helped Israel have access to additional supplies of it.
About half of Bedouin in Israel live on reservations that they were forced to move to; mostly Fellaheen agreed to move to these. The other half lives in tents or cement homes in illegal villages. After 1948, many Bedouin fled to Jordan or to the Sinai, but many stayed. They are not called reservations in Israel, but recognized towns, meaning they are recognized by the government vs. the illegal towns out in the desert where Bedouins refuse to give up their land. When they move to the recognized towns, they have to sign a paper giving up their land rights in the desert. Fellaheen are more willing to do this, as they never had the land claims that the original or 'true' Bedouin did.)
The Bedouin who live in the desert can live in tents, which used to be made out of black goat hair that the women would weave. It was strong, and could survive the harsh conditions of the weather out here, the sun and the sand storms and the cold in winter. But now, Israel outlawed the black goat in order to eliminate their nomadism, so tents usually mean tarps and burlap bags stretched across boards, which do not always hold up under strong winds, and are less safe for families.
The families that pour a cement building in the desert aren't allowed to put real roofs on their homes. They are then classified as illegal homes. The Israeli government has a section of their government called the Green Patrol, and they come out and bulldoze the homes. It is very expensive for Bedouins to build these homes, and as they do not have access to electricity, etc. They have to buy generators if they want any electricity. This is a very expensive way to have power. Those who have generators usually only use them for an hour a day. Many of the desert dwellers do not have electricity or plumbing. They cook on open fires on the ground.
One personal story has been shared of the grandmother in a family who is a widow. She still goes out with the sheep every day in the traditional way. She is in her 80s and her face is tattooed with a huge gold ring in her nose. She sleeps with the sheep out in the desert, building a camp fire at night to have her tea and make bread. They cook the bread under the coals, in the desert. They walk around in the dark like it's nothing, without flashlights and are very connected to the desert. They do not want to leave it, as they feel it is part of them. They are very poor, in economic terms, but have close family ties. Family is very important. They are very hospitable
What are their beliefs? Bedouins practice Islam, though only the official reservation towns have mosques. Apparently Bedouins were not politically affiliated with radical Islam etc, but since moving to reservation towns, which lack basic infrastructure, have high unemployment, etc., the Islamic movement has moved in to provide social services to the people and call them to a stronger walk in Islam.
Most villages have a witch lady in their village for 'healingm,' etc. They believe in witchcraft and have tribalism, or tribal codes, which may or may not line up with certain Muslim tenets. For example, in Islam, it says you should not prevent Muslims from marrying another good Muslim. But in Bedouin social codes, they prohibit Bedouins who are 'true' Bedouins from marrying into the Fellaheen class or the Abid class. (There are three 'classes' of Bedouin that are not allowed to intermarry in Israel. The 'true' Bedouin originating in Saudi Arabia; the Fellaheen (farmer/peasant) Bedouin, presumably from Nile Valley; and the Abid, once slaves from Africa.)
Bedouins view their flocks like their children and even name them. Shepherding used to be the center of their economy, and the unifying factor for families. Everyone had to work, and they all worked together to take care of their flocks. Their flocks were their economic security, their life.) Bedouins believe that blood covers--they put blood on their sheep to protect them, to cover them from evil. They also believe that one of their sheep could die a substitutionary death in place for a human.
These insights are keys to sharing the gospel with those who still have some sheep, live out in the desert and still have some connection to the traditional ways. Shepherds have to separate the sheep and the goats as the goats will bully the sheep. These and other parallels with the parables of the Bible will help them relate to the stories in ways we cannot even imagine!
What are their needs? They have economic needs--the poorest in Israel, there is a need for jobs that are appropriate to their social codes and job skills. More training and access to culture appropriate education is needed too. They are more conservative than Israeli Jewish culture.
There is a fight over land rights. Israel says the land in the desert is theirs, true Bedouins say it is theirs. Israel says many of them are living in the desert illegally, but Bedouins insist the open desert is part of who they are. They need help in negotiating with Israeli government.
Many of the women need opportunities to bring in a cash income. As they are forced to leave their traditional ways and enter a modern cash economy, there is a gap in what the women can do--both regarding their skills and social expectations--and what is available to them. They need job opportunities that allow them to retain their status as women in society. Also, since they value being mothers and wives, they need options that allow them to fulfill their duties while still economically contributing to their family. This actually brings them more respect and power into their families, when they can contribute. Bedouins consider it shameful for a woman to work in public. It ruins her reputation. So jobs they could do near their villages would be ideal. Bedouin women are not allowed to talk to men that they are not related to.
There is a sense of abandonment and being forsaken that spiritually hangs over the people. They live rejection. This orphan spirit needs to be broken off. It is over the whole country of Israel.
Bedouins are proud, and do not often take charity openly. It is insult to the husbands, saying that they cannot provide for their families.
They are unreached and need people who love them, can speak their language, and are willing to lay down their lives to reach them.
They are often viewed as criminal by their non-Bedouin neighbors.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to reach out and share the love of Christ with them.
* Pray that God will raise up faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Bedouin.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the few known Christian Bedouin living in Israel.
* Pray that their traditional Muslim culture will soften, creating open doors for the Gospel to be preached among them.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the Bedouin towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Bedouin. * Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.