Delegation of German youth with Beduin youth from Rahat, and Jewish youth in front of the Eshel Hanasi High School near Beersheba.
(photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)
At the unrecognized Beduin village of Umm-al-Hiran on Wednesday Beduin, German and Jewish teenagers were slightly at odds over the story they were hearing from residents of the village, which is slated for demolition by the Israeli government.
“Well, do you pay for the land?” Guy, an 17-year-old Israeli from Eshel Hanasi High School near Beersheba asked.
A Beduin resident was a little taken aback and responded forcefully, “This is land we were given by the government. We didn’t ask to be moved here. We will pay once there is recognition,” he said.
The German students, who had arrived in Israel two days before and were still adapting to their surroundings, seemed unsettled by the situation at Umm-al-Hiran. “I can’t understand why the state would want to destroy this village,” said one student.
This Beduin, German, and Jewish youth tour is part of an international exchange program hosted by Negev-based A New Dawn, an NGO which promotes education, employment, and leadership among the Negev’s Beduin communities. The week-long program brought German teens together with Beduin teens from Rahat, and Jewish teens from the nearby Eshel Hanasi High School. In a few weeks, the Jewish and Beduin groups will meet their counterparts in Germany.
“Much of the Beduin community will never be abroad,” said Jamal Alkirnawi, founder of A New Dawn, adding, “what is even more difficult is they are not in touch with their Jewish neighbors. We want to make sure that they are part of the world.”
There are around 150,000 Beduin in the Negev, nearly half of whom live in Rahat, 12 km. north of Beersheba. According to the NGO, over 60% of Negev Beduin are under the age of 18. “The teenagers are a major community, but they feel like they are invisible. We need to give them the power to lead in the future. We want to make the teenagers visible. They are facing a huge transition from where their parents are to where their future will be,”Alkirnawi said.
Yitzhak Bashir Salam, who was born in Rahat and is a leader of the NGO’s Beduin youth, said: “There is a bit of an identity crisis – about being an Beduin – and choosing to be called a Palestinian or an Israeli, or deciding to serve in the military or not.”
Yet Salam was thrown another curve ball, as he was given a Hebrew name in honor of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. “Not everyone knows that I am Yitzhak. I myself only found out when I was 16, when I got my ID card,” Salam said. Often called Bashir, he was given the name Yitzhak by his peace activist father.
These complex issues of identity, race and discrimination, are some of what are being discussed during the week-long tour. On Thursday, the group will visit Yad Vashem and Jerusalem’s Old City, while on Friday they will attend a Shabbat service and hold a workshop on racism in Germany and Israel.
Yet the educational tour is not all thorny issues. “I was surprised at how warmly we were welcomed,” said Tobias from the German delegation. “This is really different from Germany to feel part of the family and community.”
Guy from the Israeli delegation said he has almost no contact with his Beduin neighbors. “I don’t really know any Beduin. They have their lives and we have our lives. But I want this connection. I want to be connected,” he said.