Jerusalem, Jan. 9 – The Bedouin Arabs of Israel are embracing the 21st century as are their brethren across the Middle East – struggling to adapt the tents and camels associated with their ancient nomadic desert tribes to a modern lifestyle of fixed housing, automobiles and the Internet.
A third of Israel's 150,000 Bedouin are well settled in the Galilee region in the north of the country, with the larger portion residing in Negev region in the south. Steeped in conservative tradition that emphasizes family and tribe, Israel’s Negev Bedouins have had a rocky ride as both their leaders and the Israeli government struggle to find the best ways to adapt.
Bedouins are full citizens of Israel, serve in the armed forces and have representatives in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). As in the rest of the world, the Bedouin population has grown tremendously in the past century to the point where the sustainability of their traditional ways has been exceeded.
Over the past 50 years officials have implemented different plans to settle the Negev Bedouin like the Bedouin of the Galilee region. The growing Bedouin population is straining education and health services, as well as local infrastructure (water, sewage, roads, electricity), as the traditional method of housing on grazing lands cannot be sustained.
The transition to modern society has shaken the Bedouin world. Communities in the Negev still rank at the bottom of the socio-economic status in Israel with a troubling educational gap expressed in low graduation and high dropout rates from school.
In the past decade government policy towards the Bedouin in the Negev changed, and more resources were allocated for community development. The unrealized potential in employment and education in the Bedouin community resulted in vocational training and integration of Bedouin women into the workforce, with the goal of adding 20,000 Bedouin to the labor market by 2015.
The government has also responded by building a dozen communities, with four new communities currently under construction and two more on the planning table. The new developments come despite competing land ownership claims by Bedouin tribes and the government, seen as the main cause holding back progress in modernization.