Bedouin, derived from the Arabic “badawi”, a generic name for a desert-dweller, is a term generally applied to Arab nomadic groups, who are found throughout most of the desert belt extending from the Atlantic coast of the Sahara via the Western desert, Sinai, and Negev to the eastern coast of the Arabian Desert.
They are traditionally a nomadic people, although many of them have settled permanently and become fellaheen (land workers). The largest Bedouin locality in Israel is Rahat. The Israeli government encourages Bedouins to settle as permanent residents of towns. A large portion of Bedouins volunteers for the Israeli army, although they are generally not required to.
The Negev Bedouin Arab Community, which numbers about 100.000, some 25% of the region’s population, is in the midst of a radical social and economic transition. While many Bedouin have adapted with relative ease to a modern life style, many others are caught between the familiarity of old traditions and the sometimes fearsome lure of the new.
Traditionally the Bedouin were organized into nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes, which lived by raising sheep, goats, and camels and engaging in seasonal agriculture. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the mobility of the Bedouin was greatly restricted, making the traditional lifestyle and economic pursuits no longer viable for the vast majority of the community. In the late 1960 and early 1970, the government began implementing plans to settle them into seven urban-style towns in the northern Negev. Approximately 50% of the Bedouin live in these towns. The remaining 50% who prefer to live in non-urban, agricultural-based settlements have resisted government efforts to resettle them.
Thus, within the last five decades the Negev Bedouin community has undergone a radical process of change, modernization, and urbanization. The transition has been costly in terms of social and economic development, and signs of distress are evident. There are increases in the rates of unemployment, crime and drug usage. The educational discrepancy that begins in elementary school culminates at the university level. For Negev Bedouin, there are two university graduates per 1000, while the national average is 80 per 1000.
The problems are growing; children are more than 65% of the population, which is increasing by 4.8% per year – one of the highest growth rates in the world. The results of a recent survey among Bedouin teenagers reflect strong feelings of alienation and hostility to the state of Israel. Tensions could lead to a breakdown of trust and to long years of unrest.
There have been many studies of Bedouin life, and their history and customs are extensive. Below you will find a few examples of Bedouin traditions:
Bedouin Judgement: If two people or two groups are in logger-heads, they can
go to a Bedouin Judge who can absolutely sentence the criminal.
Camel Racing: In the areas where there are many Bedouin tribes, they organize
a camel race monthly or annually. The owner of the camel that wins the race
is recognized as a very important person among the people he lives with.
Bedouin Wedding: A wedding is organized after the groom asks for the hand of a
beautiful bride. She is carried on a camel covered by a special cottage built on
the camel’s back. Mensaf (traditional Bedouin meal) is offered to celebrate the
Following Footprints: The Bedouin can follow footprints and determine when someone
has passed by and whether the footprints are due to a man or woman and even
if the woman is pregnant.
Bedouin Fashion: Women can wear a black garment decorated beautifully on the
chest while the head and face are protected with a special cover called the
Bourque. The Bedouin women are very proud to wear expensive jewels
especially the Ottoman necklace. Men usually wear long garments, mostly white
with a red headdress and a black headband called a Kaffia.
Bedouin Hospitality (Coffee): The Bedouin person is well known for his hospitality,
so when the guest comes there are three expressions for pouring coffee:
• El-Heif – The first cup to be poured and tasted by the Bedouin
person to let the guest feel safe.
• El-Keif – The second cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the
• El-Dheif (cup of the guest) – The third cup of coffee to be poured.
The guest drinks it.
Harvesting Process: The Bedouin community is an agricultural community,
therefore there is what is called “cooperation” at harvest time, when all
relatives and friends gather to cooperate the harvest.
Bedouin Food: The Bedouin are very skillful in making special foods for
themselves and their guests. Mensaf, the most well known meal consists of rice
covered with meat (beef or lamb) which is cooked with yogurt. Pine nuts are
tasteful when added.
Feeding the Guest’s Horse: One of the beautiful habits of the Bedouin is that
when a guest arrives on horseback, the Bedouin asks permission to feed the
Directions: The Bedouin are very intelligent, using stars and planets at night and
following the footprints of man and animal during the day to determine exactly
where they are headed.
The Mourning Dinner: When someone dies, his family invited all relatives and
friends to dinner, which is usually “Mensaf”.
Sheik’s Stamp: The Sheik is the leader of the tribe. Instead of signing an
agreement, he has a stamp on which his name is written to give his approval.
Child Aqiqa (Mourouq): This Arabic expression means that when a child is born,
a lamb or goat is sacrificed. Then the meat is given to neighbors and poor
people in the area.
Bedouin Revenge: The Bedouin person defends the dignity of his family and tribe
by taking revenge (killing) the offending party.
Love: The Bedouin love a love story and all must have a happy ending.
Ramadan: Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. The Bedouin very much enjoy
this period of fasting, and the evening meal that they share with relatives is
followed by many sweets.