Bedouin community embraces the country that embraces them.
Continuing on my tour in northern Israel, on May 27, 2015, I visited the Bedouin village of Khawaled led by our guide Hassan Khawaled.
Most of the people in the village have the village name as a last name, or a variant, such as the first Israeli Bedouin diplomat Ishmael Khaldi, who is from the village.
Khawaled is east of Haifa, in the Galilee region.
The Bedouin are Arab Muslims with a unique culture. Most Israeli Bedouins live in the south of the country in the Negev region, but there is a sizable presence in the Galilee.
The Israeli Bedouin are not obligated to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, but many volunteer to do so. Bedouin have achieved great success in the IDF, and are particularly known as trackers at the borders.
Hassan explained to me how thankful he was to be a Bedouin in Israel, that it has opened up huge opportunities that would not be available to him elsewhere.
Many of the people in his village volunteer for the IDF, including career soldiers, or are in the police. Hassan himself served four years in the IDF, including in the Philadelphi corridor bordering Egypt in Gaza prior to Israel’s withdrawal.
Hassan explained that his mother’s house where he grew up, which really is more of a small shack and tent, was ordered demolished because it was not within the village planning limits. But his mother was being paid to move, and would be building a house next to Hassan’s own spacious and beautiful home.
Hassan invited us to a wonderful lunch at his house, which fortunately he served to us “American style” at a table instead of Bedouin style sitting on the floor.
While we were eating the head of the local regional council, who lives on a kibbutz, stopped by. Hassan explained that the regional council has been very helpful to Khawaled in resolving planning issues, and that the village had excellent relations with nearby kibbutzim.
Hassan explained that there was something of a building boom by the younger generation in Khawaled, and in his words, the mentality is to build the biggest house possible, and worry about the finishes later. Here is one example of an older style “house” next door to the large house built by the younger generation.
Khawaled has been highlighted by some groups as an example of discrimination against Arabs because of administrative orders to demolish houses not within the town planning zone. The ultra-left wing 972 Magazine wrote about Khawaled, Photo essay: Galilee Bedouin face house demolitions, featuring this photo:
I asked Hassan about it, and it turns out that the house in question is his mother’s house, the one for which the government is paying her to move. Hassan writes:
Yes yes this is my family
It’s my uncle Ali and his family
This article was written at the beginning
Now all have changed
And we have an agreement
It was written to have some time and to try to get more by Ali family ….
The first photo is my mother house …
Today all is fixed ……
So the 972 Mag article does not tell the whole story, which ended well. That seems to be common in profiles of minority communities in Israel — the bad is emphasized, not the good.
There is no doubt that underfunding of minority communities, particularly “unrecognized villages,” has been a problem. But at least in Khawaled, that seems to be improving. A road construction problem in Khawaled also is in the process of being solved, according to Hassan, with the help of the regional council.
Hassan took us to the local elementary school, attended by his daughter. The school serves Khawaled and the nearby Bdeouin town Ras Ali. The school was newly built and very modern. Hassan explained that this reflects growing government funding for the community, something missing in the past. In another northern Bedouin village, improved government response to planning problems led to a 76% Likud (Netanyahu) vote.
We met with the principal, a Bedouin man who had spearheaded the project to get the regional council to allocate the funds and who helped oversee the construction.
We were allowed to photograph one of the classes in session. The kids were all smiles and thrilled that Americans were visiting the class.
Hassan made sure to point out that the bulletin board at the back of the class featured all three major religions in Israel. The children also learned Hebrew in school.
All in all, I got the sense that while there are problems in the northern Bedouin communities mostly relating to planning and construction issues, there also is tremendous pride in being Israeli and serving the country.
And there is no shortage of big houses being built.
UPDATE: Ishmael Khaldi, the first Israeli Bedouin diplomat, retweeted this post:
Prior posts from Israel Trip 2015:
- Israeli school bus bombing survivor reunites with nurse who saved him – 45 years later
- Meet an Israeli Doctor Saving Syrian Lives and Limbs
- Remembering Haifa Bus 37 Suicide Bombing