When considering the wide open spaces and unique cultural and heritage gems the Negev has to offer, it might not be a bad idea to adopt a Beduin state of mind.

Over the years, Israel has invested significant effort and resources in persuading various Beduin tribes to give up their nomadic existence and to take up a more settled way of life in new urban communities. This led to the establishment of a string of towns in the Negev, such as Lakiya, Rahat and Kuseifa. Naturally, the transition to permanent domiciles has impacted on day-to-day life and generated more Western pursuits, but there are plenty of initiatives in place to preserve at least some of the centuries old Beduin customs.

At Lakiya, for example, the Rikmat Hamidbar (Desert Embroidery) workshop allows local women to produce traditionally crafted items, as well as keeping the timeworn skills alive by training the next generations of embroiderers. Visitors can see the women at work and buy the handmade goods at the store there. (For more information: (08) 651-3208; (08) 651-9883.)

But the best way to get a taste – often literally – of the Beduin way of life is to seek out some of the smaller rural communities. One such spot is Bir Hadaj in the northern Negev, not far from Kibbutz Revivim. There, one can visit a spacious hospitality tent run by Salman Abu Hamid. The father of five and university-trained educator Abu Hamid runs a cozy venture, where the proprietor is only too happy to enlighten visitors about the Beduin ethos and provide some information about the community’s sociopolitical state of affairs, as well as some nuggets about its history and heritage.

Naturally, all this information goes down better with some tasty fare, so patrons can tuck in to voluminous repasts for carnivores and vegetarians alike. If you want to stay longer, you can roll out your sleeping bag and get some peaceful slumber as the desert settles in for the night.

(For more information: 050-989-9941.) There is more where that came from at Nahal Arika, near Mitzpe Ramon, courtesy of father of eight Salman Sadan.

The community maintains a mostly traditional tribal lifestyle, and its members live in tents and makeshift structures dotted around the arid vicinity. Each family has a sheep pen, although many of the family heads earn their crust outside the community.

Sadan, who speaks English and Hebrew well, offers guided tours of the area, tales from the annals of the local Azazme tribe, as well as rustic accommodation, meals and sweet Beduin tea. Visitors can also obtain information about the best places to see in the area, as well as tips on 4x4 routes. And they can even experience some quintessential desert camel transportation. The community is also doing its best to maintain a sustainable way of running its affairs, with many of the local residents hooked up to solar-powered electrical points. (For more information: 054-349-6743.)

Farther north on Route 40, opposite the remains of the Nabatean city of Avdat, there is a delightful stopoff and stopover run by Aid Elkashahar, who also earns a living as a Nature and Parks Authority inspector. The 30 or so families living there keep herds of sheep, engage in small-scale agriculture and take on odd jobs in the area, with Elkashahar’s cozy tent accommodation providing a further source of income. The proprietor is happy to take visitors on a tour of the village, including the primary school that is attended by Beduin children from many of the communities scattered around the region between Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon. (For more information: 050-441-3212.)

Sfinat Hamidbar (Desert Ship), run by Farhan Shalibi, located opposite Golda Park near the Mashabim Junction, also offers plenty in the way of Beduin hospitality. A 20- minute drive from Beersheba, Sfinat Hamidbar serves as the starting point for trips and treks around the area, as well as providing accommodation, meals and catering services for a wide range of events. Kosher food is on offer, and weddings and bar mitzvas, as well as company functions, are frequently hosted there. Sfinat Hamidbar accommodation services incorporate comfortable caravan and bungalow facilities, as well as more rudimentary sleeping arrangements on mattresses. (For more information: (08) 655-7318 and 052-390-0020.)

Salem Abu Siam of Rahat also offers an interesting way to get a handle on the Beduin milieu in the Negev.

Abu Siam offers a range of tours, which includes guided visits to Rahat, a desert agriculture trip and visits to a Beduin livestock farm and forays to various Beduin hospitality tent sites around the area. (Abu Siam can be contacted at 050-624-1570 and Salem.as47@gmail.com.) Other desert khan and tent hospitality and accommodation, as well as camel rides and glimpses of the traditional Beduin lifestyle, are available at Khan Hashayarot near Sde Boker. It offers camping facilities, as well as cabin and Beduin tent accommodation, camel, jeep and bicycle tours (For information: (08) 653- 5777 and www.shayarot.com).

Khan Be’erotayim near Nitzana also offers similar activities and services. (For more details: (08) 655-5788 and www.beerotayim.co.il.) And if you want to get an overview of the whole Beduin experience, visit the Joe Alon Center and the Museum of Beduin Culture near Kibbutz Lahav, just north of Beersheba. The center houses attractive specimens of traditional arts and crafts, as well as historical information and permanent and temporary exhibitions. (For more details: (08) 991-3322 and www.joealon.org.il.)

This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. www.goisrael.gov.il




Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger