We sat drinking sweet nana tea in his commercialized tent in the desert area outside Beer Sheva. The shesh besh board clicked melodically from a nearby table. He was wearing his security shirt with a revolver casually nestling in its holster. His relaxed group of young children kicked a minimally inflated soccer ball around in the sifted flour of white dust which succeeded in finding its way into every nook and cranny. They were practicing tricks barefooted, skillfully evading piles of gravel and chicken manure.
He reminisced about his time in the Israeli army tracking terrorists and other infiltrators along the borders. His experiences of hazing and harassment at the hands of fellow Israeli soldiers still grated but did not diminish his love for Medinat Yisrael.
“I was in Saudi Arabia and witnessed a car accident there in which several people were seriously injured. I rushed to the next town and asked the police to call an ambulance. They told me “you know, they were probably speeding, so its their fault to begin with. Its all in God’s hands, if they’re meant to live, they will live, inshallah” You know in Israel this would never happen. People care about life here. Here every live has meaning.” He gave numerous other negative examples of his experiences in other Arab countries.
Concerned about the frequent dismantling of Bedouin houses in his area and Netanyahu’s unfulfilled promises of building a city for them. He drew sympathetic clucks from his compadres.
The tent grounds workers started the fireplace and the powerful scent of of spiced barbecued shishkebab meat was soon wafting deliciously through the large dining tent.
“You know, 90% of Bedouins used to volunteer for the army- payment has always been a problem, but now its more like only 5%. Technology can replace some of the things we can do, but nothing can replace the thousands of years of experience we have at tracking and reading the desert sands” We continued sipping our refreshed steaming tea with fresh mint leaves adding their flavor as he continued his barely interrupted monologue.
“Did you know that Ben Gurion wanted us all to convert to being Jews? My father was Ben Gurion’s personal gashash (tracker) when he moved to Sde Boker. Every morning before dawn B-G would go on a long walk through the dry hills and my father would first scout out the route, making sure that no terrorists or intruders had been there. He would have a big conversation almost every day with Ben Gurion. They talked about everything”
Although little known , enigmatic and often overlooked, the loyal Bedouins of Israel remain a valuable demographic resource who deserve increased rights and land for their communities.