Our trip coordinators at the JPC warned us that this would be an exhausting trip, but by day seven we were really feeling it. Luckily, we had some free time during the day in Tel Aviv, to rest and reflect. All of us were shocked at how fast the days were flying by.
In the evening, we left for Tel Sheva, one of the seven Bedouin cities in the Negev. The Negev is a desert region in Israel, which makes up over half of the country’s land. The Bedouin community is a traditionally Arabic-speaking, nomadic group in the Middle East, consisting of different tribes or clans. Bedouin means “Badiyah dwellers” in Arabic, ‘Badyah’ meaning the visible land (the desert). Today, they’re trying to balance their traditions with the modernizing world.
About half of the 200,000 Bedouin people in Israel live in government-build Bedouin cities, while the other half live in villages. Most of these villages (35 out of 46) are unrecognized, which often presents conflict with Israeli authorities.
In Tel Sheva, we visited the home of Suheila abu Rkeek, a 46-year-old Bedouin woman.
Suheila is one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. She told us a roller-coaster story, of how she fought her husband to keep her daughter in school. After many arguments back and forth, her daughter has finally finished high school. When we asked what she envisions for her daughter in the future, she said:
“It’s not my vision, it’s her vision.”
Suheila also told us her struggle of wanting to work. Her sister Mariam founded ‘Desert Daughter,’ a line of Bedouin cosmetic and healing products. Suheila wanted to get involved in the project but her husband wouldn’t let her. She continued anyway, keeping it a secret from him.
“There’s only one opportunity in life,” she said.
So she continues to work for Desert Daughter, and eventually her husband agreed that it was okay for her to work.
But Suheila went one step farther. Not only does she work with her sister, but she also started her own business, making meals to sell to the community.
Her husband doesn’t know about this, so I was surprised that she was willing to share all this with us. In fact, he didn’t even know that she often spoke to groups of journalists like us.
Even more shocking – and my jaw literally dropped to the floor when this happened – her husband actually came to deliver dinner while she was speaking to us. Someone just went outside to grab the food, so he wouldn’t see us.
The craziest part about this visit was how calm Suheila was about this. Despite the obstacles in her way, she still kept going, like that was the normal thing to do.
Suehila did say that her husband isn’t representative of the men in her community – he is a minority in his conservative beliefs about women and their role in society. When we asked why he was different from other Bedouin men, she laughed and said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out.”
After a long talk with Suheila (we had lots of questions for her, as you can imagine), we enjoyed the dinner that was secretly brought to us. Suheila also showed us some of the ‘Desert Daughter’ products.
After our evening here, we drove to the Dead Sea. Check out my next post for more updates!