Beduin leader, 96, hailed for life of service

Ailing 'sheikh of all sheikhs' helped Palmah, founded IDF trackers' unit.

beduin 88 (photo credit: )
beduin 88
(photo credit: )
Police, IDF and local dignitaries gathered Wednesday in the Beduin community of Segev Shalom, near Beersheba, to honor the man they all call the "sheikh of all sheikhs." Ouda Abu Muamar, 96, has served the state for over 60 years. Even before the establishment of Israel, Abu Muamar was reportedly in close contact with the Palmah, aiding them in their anti-British insurgency. Southern District chief Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev and Negev Subdistrict chief Lt.-Cmdr. Yosi Priente presented Abu Muamar with a lifetime achievement award, recognizing the Azazmeh tribe leader for his service to the Beduin community and to the defense of Israel. It was the first time that such an award has been given, but Abu Muamar is no stranger to such honors, as one of the few Beduin - if not the only one - to hold a campaign ribbon for service in the Palmah and the War of Independence, as well as two separate awards from the president for service to the defense community and to the Beduin minority. Abu Muamar was among the founders of the IDF's Beduin Trackers Unit, which utilized and preserved an ancient tradition of following minute clues to identify tracks in different types of soil. He also served as one of then-division commander Ariel Sharon's staff officers in the Yom Kippur War. "We had a decades-long relationship... not for a minute did he ever lose his Beduin pride," recalled Sharon in 2004. Abu Muamar was instrumental in encouraging young Beduin men to serve in the IDF, and set an example by making sure all of his sons enlisted. But even before the days of the trackers unit, said Israel Police Southern District Arab Affairs Advisor Ch.-Supt. Shalom Ben-Salmon, the sheikh participated in missions for the government "that are still best complimented by silence." "Because of him, the Azazmeh tribe carried the flag of Beduin involvement in the IDF," Ben-Salmon said. "He would say, 'The fate of the Beduin is unbreakably tied with the destiny of Israel.'" However, it was through his work within the Beduin community that Abu Muamar gained the title of "sheikh of all sheikhs." In the early days of the state, when Israel's Beduin communities were still under the Civil Administration rule, Abu Muamar served as a go-between for the military governor and the local populations. With the support of other tribal sheikhs, Abu Muamar established a response team that was constantly on call to help resolve intertribal conflicts. "Whenever there was a problem, he would receive the alert. He ran it like a military command center, with an operations officer and everything. If there was a conflict, he'd go out to the scene with his sheikhs, and they'd work to resolve the problem," said Ben-Salmon. The concept of the rule of law is central to Abu Muamar's ideology, said Ben-Salmon, who recalled that the sheikh frequently stated that "the law is above every person." It was only in the mid-90s, after his 80th birthday, that Abu Muamar's health began to deteriorate and prevent him from pursuing his community activism. "In recent years, he has left behind a gigantic open space," said Ben-Salmon. "Now, the solutions to conflicts are frequently only partial." And there is nobody within the community, he added, who seems poised to take over where Abu Muamar has left off. "There may never be another sheikh of all sheikhs," he explained. "The face of the Beduin community is changing. Tradition has become less strong, and the word of any given sheikh is much less important now than in the past. Once, it would move the entire community to the right or to the left. Now, the concept of democracy is moving into the community, and if any sheikhs have influence, it is the smaller, local ones." Nevertheless, the sheikh, who now breathes only with assistance, maintains his strong beliefs. "We are all children of Abraham our Father," Abu Muamar said during the ceremony Wednesday. "And we must live in peace."