top of page

Bedouins or Bust

As I began exploring other cultures and peoples for the Tapestry of Israel virtual tours, I was constantly amazed by what I found and learned. There was so much I didn't know!

And in the course of a two hour virtual tour on Zoom, I am not able to tell you everything I want to tell you! This is very frustrating for yours truly the history teacher, as I want to feed you all the information I possibly can.

And that is what this blog post is about. I want to share an absolutely fascinating conversation I had with a neighbor of mine, who lives in my home community of Hannaton. His name is Guy Gadir and he happens to be an Arab Bedouin Muslim citizen of Israel, who is married to an Orthodox Jewish woman, whose children attend Jewish religious schools and his son wears tzitzit (fringes worn by religious Jews) and kippah (head covering worn by religious Jews).

Yes, indeed, and that is only the beginning.

Guy and I were friendly, a hello and a wave here and there as we crossed paths near our homes.

Fallen Bedouin Soldier Memorial site with Hannaton in the background

In May earlier this year, during Israel Memorial Day, I decided to attend the memorial services at the Fallen Bedouin Soldier Memorial Site, which is about a mile from my home. And it was there that I saw Guy, with his son (the one with the tzitzit and the kippah) conversing with some Bedouin elders. I suddenly remembered that Guy is a high ranking officer in the Israel Defense Forces and that I should have interviewed HIM for my virtual tour. Why hadn't I thought of him before?

And then I realized that he could probably answer some lingering questions I had from my Bedouins of the Galilee tour. I needed to sit and have a long talk with him. And so, I called and we set a time.

In a Bedouin's home there is always black coffee

The following is a rough transcript of our fascinating conversation:

Anat: Guy, one of the things I learned, is the fact that even before the establishment of the State of Israel, many of the Bedouins of the Galilee chose sides and decided to join the ranks of the Palmach (Jewish para-military fighters, set up by the British in 1942 in order to be prepared to fight the Nazis). Tell me about that decision. It's not a given that Arab Bedouin Muslims, like the Druze, would choose THIS side of the conflict. Why was that? Why do Bedouins in Tuba Zangariya, and in el Heib, choose the Jewish side?

Guy: Yes, so first of all, Bedouin life and culture is based on tribes. Each tribe protected its own, and within the tribe, first the nuclear family and then the hamula, which is a few families. And that is called in Arabic, asabiya, and it means blood relatives. It comes from the word asab, for nerve, the bundles of nerves we have in our body. Protecting one another, all together, in the family; father, mother, sister, brother, then cousins, then the hamula.

First comes the family, then a few families make a hamula, then a few hamulot make a tribe, and a few tribes make a kabilah. What does this union of tribes give, this covenant between tribes? Power. Strength. In the past it was a matter of strength. There was nothing else. The most powerful survived. We needed to protect one another.

Guy Gadir

Anat: My understanding of Bedouin history is that the first tribes started as nomadic tribes in the Arabian Peninsula. And then, some migrated along the western coast toward the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan and the Negev Desert. They remained nomads. The other group of tribes migrate northwards towards Mesopotamia, where they found valleys and springs and mountains. They eventually became semi-nomadic and added agriculture to their lives.

Guy: Bedouins always, even in the modern era, spent much more time sheparding and pasturing their flocks than farming. Agriculture was a minor part of their lives. Those who were mostly farmers were the falahim, those that lived in villages, not Bedouins. The lands were theirs. The Bedouins were always nomadic, they moved all over the land, even in the Galilee. For example, my tribe moved from the Misgav area to the Jezre'el Valley, then to a place close to Zichron Yaakov, then they came back here and then went to Migdal, near Tiberias, and then returned. All these lands were our pasturing lands.

Anat: Is that the Gadir tribe?

Guy: No, the Hujerat tribe. Gadir is a hamula in the Hujerat tribe. When they arrived here, they were only two brothers. With time, through the Ottoman times and the British Mandate and all the wars, the State of Israel arrived. The Bedouins decided they are not fighting against it. They read the future well.

The sheikh, from al-Heib, the tribe that sat in Tuba Zangariya, was friends with Yigal Alon (head of the Palmach). He decided he will help and joined the Palmach. A new unit was formed called the Pal-Heib and there are photos of them till today, some on horseback, some fighters.

Bedouins and Jews, mid 20th cent

Like I told you, their first roles were as fighters and trackers. The first main roles for the Bedouins as they joined the army later as well, were as trackers. There was a unit of trackers all over Israel, and they were all Bedouins. And then some Druze joined them as they also know the terrain and outdoor life. And now, even Ethiopian Jews have joined the unit as they know the outdoors well.

Sadly, I have two very good friends from the trackers unit, two Ethiopian Jews, one an officer and another an NCO, who were killed. One when he uncovered a roadside bomb near southern Gaza, and the other was killed in Tzuk Eitan (Operation Protective Edge 2014) when the group he was with was hit with an RPG. Both were in a training I did a couple of weeks before they were killed. They were both trackers and I knew them well.

Anat: Why do you think Bedouins, Druze and Ethipians feel drawn to be trackers?

Guy: It's not that they are drawn to it, its a lifestyle. The Bedouins, it's their lives, they are comfortable moving along the terrain, listening to nature, noticing every movement on the terrain, paying attention to small details in the weather, whether there will be rain, what nature tells us. These are things the Bedouin needs to know. The Bedouin doesn't have weather stations, he learns to read the land. You have to know the plants, there are no signs to tell him what he can or cannot eat. If a sheep gets lost, you need to know how to track it down. If cattle gets stolen, you need to find it. If you don't learn to track it down, you'll lose your income. Not only that, you need to protect yourself, being a good tracker is essential. It's about survival. It's all learned with time.

Anat: So what makes the al-Heib Sheikh join Yigal Alon? Was it brotherhood, friendship?

Guy: I don't really know, but I'll tell you what I've heard over the years. I know this from stories and also about myself and about others who are in the system. Then, when the Jews came and respected the Bedouin tribes and did not harm them and lived side by side, the Bedouins knew that it was in their best interest to help out and they wanted to be part of the effort to build the land. And with time, it became part of who we are, not only to help but to be a part, to advance things.

Amos Yarkoni, second from the right

There was a Bedouin, from right here in Zarzir, whose name was Abd el-Majid Hidr (in Arabic) and he changed his name to Amos Yarkoni (in Hebrew), and became the commander of the Shaked elite reconnaissance unit.

Anat: Yes, from Zarzir, from the Mazarib tribe, right?

Guy: Yes. Also Sheikh Ouda Abu Muamar from the south, who helped Ariel Sharon (famous army commander who became Prime Minister of Israel)

Anat: He was from the south? Isn't that rare?

Guy: People have the mistaken idea that Bedouins from the south are not connected to the State of Israel. That is wrong. They are very strong, in education, in their contribution to the country, people with respect. What gives that wrong impression? That's where most of the Bedouins are, about 200,ooo of them in the south, spread out all over a huge piece of land. So the numbers of criminals is higher and the trouble they cause makes more noise. But if you take the numbers of Bedouins in the south who are acedemics, learned people who contribute to our society, there are even more than from the north.

The stigma of the southern Bedouins is because of the large spread of desert, the terrain, the mentality of the hard life in the desert. Life is difficult there. If a young Bedouin in the south gets up and decides to get a job, to become part of society, it's harder for him. No one will take him. They don't have many choices.

So before Israeli independence, there were other tribes here in the north that decided either not to fight against, or to join forces with the Jews. Different tribes like the Hujerat, Mazarib, and Suweid, which is a very large tribe spread all over the north, also the Kaabiya tribe. And this contribution started in the past and it continues till today.

Guy Gadir honored for his outstanding work in the Army's Southern Command

Today there are many Bedouin officers, there are many quality soldiers. Today's soldiers are not only looking to be regular fighters, many of them are looking for professions, such as medical staff or drivers or whatever they can take with them to civilian life afterwards.

Anat: Is there still a Trackers Unit?

Guy: Yes, there is. They enlist as regular soldiers, do their regular basic training as fighters, and from there they go to the Trackers Unit for about six months of specialized training. After that, according to the needs of the army at the time, they get spread out and placed in other units, depending on the need.

Anat: Tell me, are there women in the Trackers Unit?

Guy: No.

Anat: Are there Bedouin young women that serve in the Army?

Guy: There are many young Bedouin women who do Civil Service for two years. There are a few that did enlist in the Army instead and also in the Police. But it's not that common because its not compulsory and not that acceptable in our culture.

Anat: So, there are those Bedouins who, especially in the north, volunteer to serve and those that don't. What inspires a young Bedouin man to volunteer to the Israeli Army? Why are there some that do and some that don't? What affects that decision?

Guy: We're talking about the basic Bedouin culture. It all has to do with the tribes themselves and the status of the members of the tribe. Within the tribe there are several categories of members. One is the women, and by the way, the woman were always supportive and helped and did almost everything to help sustain the family. She did not leave the tribe or the home but she always got the respect she deserved.

Regarding the men, they were divided into categories. There were those who were the leaders, like the sheikhs and their sons

Anat: Were those divisions or categories by families or were they divided within the family?

Guy: Those were decisions of the sheikh. The sheikh and his people were chosen, they were usually the wiser older men. They gathered in the sheikh's tent and made all the decisions. And then there were the sheikh's sons, who were trained to be the fighters. They learned to ride, to shoot, to fight with the sword, to protect the tribe. That was their role in the tribe.

Anat: What were they called?

Guy: Al-fursan. From the word for horseman. They were the protectors of the tribe.

Al-fursan, Bedouin horsemen

|And then there was the second group, those called al-royian, from the word for shepherd, the sheperds who pastured the herds of the sheikh. These were people who spent time with the sheep and goats, usually poor families, they did not have much money or their own herds, and they supported the upper class. And then there were the simplest people, those who did their part by serving the others, usually served the coffee or cooked. They were called the qahwji

Anat: What does qahwji mean?

Guy: Its from the word in Arabic for coffee, qahwa. Qahwa means coffee and qahwji means 'pourer of coffee'. He gives the service. Those are the ones who do the simplest work, they made the coffee and slaughtered the sheeep and prepared the food for the guests. Those are the simplest people . The Bedouin culture has an order to it, a division of labor.

There are those who are fighters, and those who decide who is a fighter are the elders and the sheikh's inner circle. They make the decisions. The fighters don't have the ability to appeal that decision. The sheikh decided and that is it. He consults with the elders and that is what it is.

Anat: Does the coffee pourer have the right to ask to be a fighter?

Guy: Well, he really does not have the ability to do that. In order to move up in Bedouin society you needed a horse. And you can't just get a horse, for that you need social standing or a lot of money. And a rifle, or a sword, those were expensive and not easily obtained. And then you need to train to be a fighter and prove yourself. A shepherd or a servant does not have the time to train like that.

Anat: And today?

Guy: Today everything has changed. The mentality has changed.

Anat: Are there families who tend to enlist more as fighters in the army and those who don't?

Guy: That, yes. There are those families who enlist in great numbers. If you look at who enlists more and who enlists less, then yes. There is a big difference. There is still that mentality of families who belong to the three layers of Bedouin society. The leading families, those tend to enlist more.

In the Hujerat tribe, in the Gadir family, there is a family that is well known that their members tend to go into the hauling and construction business, with buldozers and trucks and heavy equipment. The father brings the sons and so on. Very few of them join the army.

And in other families, maybe the father was a career military, maybe a bereaved family member, where a family member was killed during his military service, and the rest of the family is inspired to follow in their footsteps or honor the dead family member by joining the same unit they were in. And they do their best to make them proud.

In the new era, even though we have gone from tents to huts, to living in villas with a Land Cruiser in the driveway, deep inside we are still culturally Bedouin in our mentality. It takes a long time to change those things.

Guy and only some of his many diplomas and awards

Anat: Guy, tell me a little bit about yourself. At the age of eighteen, you chose a Hebrew name for yourself.

Guy: Yes, at first it was a bit of joke, just for fun. Guy (Guy is a Hebrew name, not Arabic), Guy Gadir. In the end, it stuck and I changed it officially.

Anat: And what was your name before that?

Guy: It was Mustafa (which is in Arabic), named after my uncle who was killed in the army. In our family we have fifteen or sixteen cousins named Mustafa, named after this uncle who was killed in the army. And by the way, this uncle Mustafa, he was named after an uncle of his, Mustafa Tabash, who also was killed in the times of Alexander Zayid (1930's).

Anat: Wow. And you are already retired, right? What did you retire from?

Guy: Yes, I retired four years ago from the Combat Operations division. At the end of my military service, I was head of Combat Operations in the South Command. We would help plan operations or do follow up debriefs after they had taken place. We would train the soldiers as they prepared for their operations. I was the head of that unit.

My service began as a regular combat soldier, then I was a squad commander and then a platoon commander. I did that several times, then also a deputy commander of a batallion, then commander, and then I dealt with the issue of enlistment of our Bedouin youth. That was very interesting and very challenging, for five years. I worked with the civilian authorities, with schools, with youth, with Bedouin tribes, with the Ministry of Education.

We did some good work there, in the villages and the schools, and in living room meetings, in order to expose the Bedouin boys to the many possibilities that military service offers the youngster. It was a successful time. We did a lot of good, we improved the process. The enlistment numbers grew.


Anat: And what are the enlistment numbers today? What are the percentages?

Guy: Today I'm not so sure, but when I was there we had 2/3 elisted from the north, and 1/3 enlisted from the south. I know the south numbers have gone down now. We don't measure that in percentages, it's more by the numbers. One hundred in an enlisting class, two hundred maybe, like that.

There is an organization that takes care of the Bedouins in the north and another takes care of the south. And today, I know that we enlist about 500 Bedouin boys a year in the north. Of about 800 to 1000 boys who start the process, about 500 finish and finally enlist.

Anat: Are there also mechinot (post high school, pre army year programs)?

Guy: Yes, there is a mechina for Bedouin boys today and its doing very well. The boys come out of there very well prepared. Its very good. High quality. They come out of there ready for life.

Anat: What do you do today?

Guy: I do some things here in Hannaton, my contribution to the community. I have given lectures and done workshops.

Guy gives a lecture in our home of Hannaton

I am also spending a lot of time with the family. Now during the Covid epidemic, I'm looking for something I like and am passionate about. I help my friends with things they need, helping my brother with his business. It's not an easy time right now.

Anat: Guy, it's ok to be looking. You've got your pension, you can take your time to figure out what to do next. Thank you so much for your time and the great conversation. Thank you.

P.S. If the above has peaked your interest, and you have not attended my Bedouins of the Galilee virtual tour, met some of my amazing Bedouin friends and learned about their culture and how they fit into the fabric of Israeli society, please click on the following link to register for a tour.

Don't miss it!


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page