Tiyul-Rihla Goes South: Beer Sheva and Rahat
After long waits at the Rachel's Tomb (300) and Qalandia checkpoints, 25 Palestinians joined 20 Israelis to fill a bus headed south, where Tiyul-Rihla would spend two days together exploring issues of history and narrative.
After an ice-breaker in Beit Kama, we started the trip at Tel Sheva (Hebrew), a name very similar to the Arabic Tel es-Saba. At this impressive archeological site with vast underground water cisterns, we learned from our guide, Avigail Kupferman, that it is believed to sit atop the remains of the biblical town of Beersheba, traditionally dated to the monarchy of King David (~1000 BCE) and, later, to the kingdom of Judah (980–701 B.C.E.). Beer-Sheba is mentioned 33 times in the Hebrew bible; Abraham (in the Quran: Ibrahim) is said to have lived there.
After lunch in the Old City of Beer Sheva, we continued to Rahat, a Bedouin city in Southern Israel with a population of 62,415, the largest Bedouin settlement in the world, and the only one in Israel to have the official status of “city.” Our speakers, Majed and Sarah, explained that the Bedouin initially arrived to the Negev as nomadic tribes from Saudi Arabia. Some claim they have lived in the area since the rise of Islam, or at least from the 11th century.
During the military rule of 1951-1966, the Israeli authorities concentrated the Negev Bedouin in one area in the northeast of the Negev. This “Sayig” was restricted, the Bedouin were no longer able to cultivate their former lands, and needed permits to leave the Sayig. The traditional Bedouin lifestyle was undermined on these infertile lands and they were forced to seek out new, less traditional ways of earning a living.
Rahat was established by Israel in 1972. Resettlement in urban areas afforded the Bedouin basic services such as roads, schools and water systems, but these services remained inferior to the ones allocated to the Jewish villages. Majed tells us that even Rahat’s sewage system was not completed until 2002 and Bedouin were not provided with sufficient resources for independent development. The state claims that this is because the Bedouin are scattered and have not paid sufficient taxes. The Bedouin argue that there were no sufficient employment opportunities suitable for their lifestyle to begin with, from which they could have paid taxes.
After an interesting discussion with Majed and Sarah about Bedouin culture and Sarah’s work with disabled Bedouin women throughout southern Israel, we continued to our traditional Bedouin “mansaf” dinner.
Full of new ideas and tired from all the impressions of the day, we drove to Kibbutz Gvulot, close to the Gaza strip, to stay overnight. The group carried many conversations into the evening while listening to Hebrew and Arabic music and learning each other’s traditional dances like Palestinian “Dapke.”
Continue reading about our discussion on Zionism and tour of Kibbutz Gevulot on Trip 19, Day 2...
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