Herzog attends inauguration of Bedouin cultural center in Rahat

“The first Bedouin city deserves a respectable cultural center in which its residents can take pride,” said Herzog.

 President Herzog at the Dubai expo, 1/31/2022. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
President Herzog at the Dubai expo, 1/31/2022.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

In yet another demonstration of his determination to be the president of all the citizens of Israel, President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday went to Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in the Negev Desert, to participate in the inauguration ceremony of Rahat’s first fully-fledged, modern cultural and leisure center.

Among the other dignitaries who attended and were welcomed by Rahat Mayor Fayez Abu Sahiban, were Yoav Segalovitz, the deputy minister for Internal Security; MK Mansour Abbas, who is a member of the government coalition; and Avigdor Yitzhaki, the chairman of Mifal Hapayis, the National Lottery, who is a former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office. The new cultural center was built with substantial help from Mifal Hapayis.

Rahat received city status because of its urban character. Its residents are not nomads, but live in modern apartment buildings, and many are university graduates.

In congratulating Rahat on its new cultural icon, Herzog emphasized the history and heritage of the Bedouin in the Negev and the important role that the Bedouin community plays in Israeli society.

“The first Bedouin city, a city of more than 70,000 residents, deserves a respectable cultural center in which its residents can take pride,” said Herzog.

The Bedouin settlement of Rahat, South District of Israel. Rahat is the largest Bedouin settlement in Israel, and the only one to have the status of city.October 31 2010. (credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)The Bedouin settlement of Rahat, South District of Israel. Rahat is the largest Bedouin settlement in Israel, and the only one to have the status of city.October 31 2010. (credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)

Despite the festive occasion, Herzog could not refrain from mentioning the recent unrest in Bedouin society, violations of the law, and violent clashes with law enforcement personnel.

“The fight to protect lives and the rule of law is our common fight,” he said. “It is a fight by state authorities, a fight by the Israel Police – and yes, it is also a fight by the municipality, a fight by religious leaders, teachers at school and parents at home. It is a struggle in which we must all join forces and fight together. Instead of sowing hatred and reaping chaos, we must sow hope and enjoy the fruits of partnership. We must see how close and how similar we are, and how strong we are when we choose each other, when we choose respect and when we choose life.”

In this context, he saw the new cultural center as a place of hope and honor.

“Rahat is a major metropolis for Bedouin society and for all residents of the western Negev,” said Abu Sahiban. “Many studies show that culture, art and theater create quality of life, local pride and socioeconomic development. We are proud of the cultural center in Rahat, which will combine the worlds of the spirit from east to west, and in addition to providing high-quality culture and leisure, will symbolize inspiration, hope and coexistence.”

An example of coexistence in the Negev is the Jewish-Bedouin charitable organization Desert Stars. Following the inauguration ceremony, Herzog met with some of the members of Desert Stars, and learned from them about what they are doing to promote a new generation of young Bedouin leadership in the Negev through social activism

The organization was founded in 2013 by Matan Yaffe and Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabar. It encourages Jewish and Bedouin Israelis to get to know each other and work together for the common good. Herzog, whose friendly nature and genuine curiosity put people at ease and enable them to chat with him without inhibition, held an open conversation with participants, who were more than eager to share their experiences with him.

Lina Abu Sabitan, a 19-year-old participant from Tel Sheva, told the president about the organization’s visit to Bnei Brak and their encounter with representatives of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) society.

“The Jews don’t know everything yet about Bedouin society, and we don’t know everything about Jewish society, either,” she admitted. “So many questions came up in the meeting, because it was the first time that we had met people from different sections of society.”

Pleased that meeting and learning about the other is an essential part of the program, Herzog said, “It is very important that Jewish society gets to know the story, structure,and culture of Bedouin society, and it is also important that Bedouin society gets to know the Jewish story and Jewish society. There is no other choice. This is the only way that we will succeed.”