Bedouin Blood Brothers and the Destiny of Israel

“Kul maktub,” the grief-stricken Bedouin man assured his visitor… and also himself. “It's all written”, meaning it was just destiny playing itself out as God willed it. Or was it? We all have our ways of dealing with loss and tragedy, and this is theirs. Israeli Bedouins are predominantly Muslim, and in Islam there is the fatalistic idea that God has ordained everything. It's all written, and that's just how it's going to be. Good and bad, we just accept our lot. But sometimes we have to ask, we have to protest: did this really have to happen? Was this God's will?

The Bedouin community has been impacted by the evil events of October 7th just as much as any other. Bedouin children have been killed, men murdered in their tents, and several Bedouin are among those now held hostage in Gaza.

But equally, they also feature among the stories of great heroism coming to light in the aftermath of the massacre.

Bedouins are part and parcel of Israel, past, present, and future.

Bedouins in Israel

Hamas missiles had just murdered several schoolchildren, so Shalom Weil, CEO of the Yesodot Center for Torah and Democracy, went to visit the superintendent for Bedouin schools in the Negev desert. As the bereavement and casualty official for schools in the south of Israel, Weil wanted to offer condolences from the state of Israel to this Bedouin community for their loss.

Bedouins live in the south of IsraelThe superintendent, named Joma, explained to Shalom Weil that the community would consider his visit a great honor. He was not wrong. They were greeted with traditional hospitality in one of the designated tents of mourning. Weil describes the scene:

“A line of barefoot men, eyes red from crying, are standing outside in the sun, waiting for us. Salaam alaikum, handshakes, blessings, and a hand on the heart to signify pain and consolation. Joma and I pay our respects sitting cross-legged on the colorful woven carpet, while the mourners are on their knees. One of the children approaches us with bottles of water, the second brings dates, and the third comes with a finjan pot of bitter black coffee.”1

The are approximately 200,000-250,000 Bedouins living in Israel today, mostly in the Negev region—in Beersheva and the surrounding area. Bedouins are an ancient tribal people, nomads primarily from the Arabic peninsula who started arriving in the Holy Land about 500 years ago onwards. Since then, many have settled permanently in tents and huts in the Israeli desert, while others stay semi-nomadic. Israeli Bedouin may not be quite as mobile as in the past, but many traditions and conventions have been kept till this day. Modernity has crept into much of life, but they still maintain a conservative and traditional culture, and are an integral part of Israeli society.

Blood brothers

The Bedouin have a blood pact with the Jewish people that existed from before 1948, while the Jews were resisting the British Mandate that refused them entry even during the Holocaust. The events hitting the Bedouin today and the horrors inflicted on Israel by Hamas have only strengthened that pact.

Bedouin people living in IsraelThe two children had been playing outside when a rocket hit. The families are devastated. Weil recounts that one of the sheikhs shared more of the horrors Hamas perpetrated against the Bedouins on that awful day:

“One woman from the community was working out in the fields, dressed in her long black traditional, modest robe. Hamas terrorists shot 42 bullets into her and then further mutilated her body.”

Another Bedouin family from Rahat saw murder in cold blood by Hamas terrorists who had infiltrated on October 7th. The fact that they were clearly Arabs made no difference. “You're more Jewish than the Jews!” the terrorists yelled, before killing the father and shooting a five year old boy named Atallah in the chest. Somehow he survived.2

On that same day, a Bedouin minibus driver from the same town became a national hero after rescuing 30 Israelis from that ill-fated party in the desert.

“When I think about it, I ask how did we get out of there… I guess it’s fate that we’re meant to live longer in this world.”

Youssef Ziadna explained how he received an emergency call to pick up nine people from the rave much earlier than expected. It soon became clear this was not a standard emergency. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” Ziadna relayed. “I stared death in the face, but I knew I couldn’t give up on my missions. I will go and rescue them… I told them to bring as many as possible.” According to the Jerusalem Post, Ziadna managed to cram 30 into his minibus designed to carry 14 people, some of whom were shot and wounded, while a Hamas paraglider hovered overhead firing a machine gun indiscriminately at the people below. Knowing the area well, he chose little known routes that would save their lives, also showing other cars the way of escape. Several people from Rahat were wounded in the massacre and five are reported missing, four of whom are from Ziadna's family. More than that, Ziadna says he has received death threats from Gaza for saving Jewish lives. As much as he may be hated by Hamas, he has become a hero in Israel, and has even been invited by Israel’s embassy in Dubai to tell his story there. “I would never wish on anyone to see what I saw,” Ziadna told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “This is trauma for my whole life. When I sit alone and recollect, I can’t help the tears.”3

The mayor of Rahat, Ata Abu-Madighem, has been campaigning for bomb shelters and reinforced rooms for years. 75,000 Bedouins share just 10 shelters in Rahat, and many of those living in tents have no shelter at all, a fact that the mayor insists must be addressed: “The state must make a mental switch and start respecting the Bedouin community”.

“After this, the government needs to do a better job of looking after us because we’re also part of this nation,” Ziadna says in agreement. “We are one people — we are Israelis. We live here together and we need to go hand in hand.”

It is written

These horrors are too much to bear. How do you process it? How does the human heart handle such grief? Exposure to such extreme evil? “It's all written”. It's God's will. It had to be this way, and God knows best. Well. That's the Muslim take on it. But as believers, what is our take? It it all inevitable? The Bible says in Psalm 139 that our days written in God's book before one of them came to be. Does that fix our destiny?

  1. Times of Israel, Mourning with our Bedouin blood brothers, Shalom Weil, October 23, 2023
  2. Yael Bar Tur on X
  3. Jerusalem Post, Bedouin bus driver saves 30 people from the Negev rave massacre, By Deborah Danan /JTA, October 20, 2023

Photo by Teodor Kuduschiev on Unsplash

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