Wednesday, January 20, 2021

First Bedouin forum in West Bank ‘‘an historical moment‘‘

By Ary Gotlib - December 24, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [Bedouin] [Negev Desert] [Jordan Valley]

For two days, over December 21 and 22, the first Bedouin forum in Palestine organized by the NGO Bedouins without Borders, took place in Nabi Mosa Mosque, south of Jericho.

The hosting site is a very symbolic place due to the mosque founded during the 12th century reign of Saladin. Nabi Mosa Mosque served as a rest and safe place for Arabs fighting against the Crusaders.
During the two day forum, conferences on tribal law, Bedouin way of style, in addition to Bedouin women issues were discussed. It was also an opportunity to learn about Bedouin culture through their products, foods and theatre.
“It is a historical day,” Wisam Salah Al Ta’amri, chef director of Bedouins without Borders and main organizer of the event, claimed enthusiastically. On the first day, elders (or sheikhs in Arabic) of all Palestinian Bedouin tribes, except one, gathered in a bid to speak about the socio-political context of their country and their life.

Sheikh Sayyah Touri addressing the audience.

In Palestine, there are eight major Bedouin tribes, living across the Negev desert and in the Jordan Valley. In Arabic, Bedouin means desert dweller. Of these tribes, there is a total of around 300, 000 to 400, 000 inhabitants. Since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 many of the Bedouin communities fell under the control of Israeli state regulations. The Negev desert now lies within the state border of Israel, and the Jordan Valley in Area C, under full Israeli control and military occupation.
Sheikh Sayyah Touri from the threatened village of al-Araqib in the Negev believes his community is “a symbol of Israel's fierceness against the Bedouins.”
“Israel demolishes our homes, we need to keep rebuilding again and again because we own these lands - we have the proof to show to the world,” Touri stated at the forum.
Two days after his speech, Touri will begin serving a 10-month prison sentence, handed down by the Israeli state for refusing to leave the lands where he and his community live.

Seven elders of Bedouin Tribes gathered together in “a historical moment.”

Since 1967 and the occupation of the West Bank, Bedouins have been threatened and displaced by Israel. For Ziad Hamidan, co-director of Bedouins without Borders it is easy to understand. “First, Israel wants to take over the land. Second, they want to steal our heritage, culture, values, folklore.”
Through various actions by Israel since occupation, the Bedouin’s living conditions have only become worse. “Israel displace Bedouins to new cities, into boxes, and as a result, we lose our way of living,” Hamidan continued. He reminded the audience of the words of Israeli Agricultural Minister Moshe Dayan in 1963; “We [Israel] should turn Bedouins into an urban proletariat and […] this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear.”

Saqer Al-Kawazba is the guardian of Nabi Mosa Mosque. “When I discovered this place 16 years ago, it was a abandoned place,” he said. Al-Kawazba decided to started to live in Nabi Mosa inorder to keep this heritage, and further encourage other displaced Bedouins to the area.

The living way of Bedouins is special. “We are neither sedentary nor nomadic, these words are part of Western terminology,” Wisam Salah Al Ta’amri explained. “We [move around] but only on the lands we own, not on lands of other tribes,” he added, meaning that if the Bedouins are living there, they have the right to.

An important place was also reserved for Bedouin women to express their living conditions.

The Bedouins without Borders NGO was established in 2015. It is now the sole association in West Bank which only focuses on Bedouin’s rights. For Ziad Hamidan the aim is “to make people and authorities aware of our presence and to save our knowledge.”
People working with the NGO train women of Bedouin communities in order to help them in developing skills of creating necklaces, bracelets, Men's Leather Bracelets  goods and so on, as a way to economically empower the community.
This initiative permitted Bedioun women to have a cultural cooperative in Bethlehem. For Kifah Salh from the Kor Shan tribe and chief of the workshop: “if we keep our know-how, we can sustain our home!”

Handmade products from the Bedouin Women Cultural Cooperative in Bethlehem were displayed for sales.

With the willingness of Israel to destroy the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar “something has changed with Palestinian Authority. They started for the first time to defend Bedouins,” as stated by Wisam Salah Al Ta’amri.
“Palestinians historically only recognized farmers, refugees and townfolk.” Al Ta’amri lamented that Bedouin were “marginalized and described as savages.”
But Al Ta’amri couldn’t hide his disappointment because of the absence of PA Minister of Culture, allegedly due to what he claimed over the blockade of the Israeli army in Ramallah. “For me it still shows the poor consideration for Bedouin communities,” Al Ta’amri expressed.

Bedouin without Borders theatre troupe closed the event by their performance.

For organisers of the forum and elders of tribes, Bedouin’s rights are more threatened than ever because of the current Israeli plan to displace around 30 Bedouin villages, located between Jerusalem and Jericho.
The forum, which gathered more than 300 hundred people was one important first step for Bedouins and the hard days that will come. 

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