Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bedouins - Israel's lowest underclass

Sultan Abu-Abayyid shares with our group about Bedouin issues

Eating lunch in a Bedouin tent is for the flexible among us

After our visit to Hebron we headed to Kibbutz Krameem in the Negev for an overnight. The kibbutz is in a quiet, agricultural area and our rooms were individual cabins spread out over a gentle slope.

In the morning, Huda Giddens introduced us to Sultan Abu-Abayyid, a 50ish Bedouin man who comes off as well-educated and professional. He described for us the historical background and current conditions of Bedouin peoples in Israel, Jordan, and Gaza.

Bedouins have inhabited this region for hundreds if not thousands of years. These semi-nomadic people live in tents and have an economy based on goat and sheep herding as well as farming and orchards. Virtually all are Muslim and over 120,000 live in Israel, while 700,000 live in refugee camps in Jordan. No modern government - Turkey, Britain, Israel - has ever quite understood the traditional customs and stubborn libertarian ways of the Bedouin. Israel has tried many times to settle Bedouins in established villages. Instead, most Bedouins live in unrecognized villages consisting of ramshackle tarps and corrugated metal siding. The families are desperately poor, and although they pay income taxes as all Israelis and have full vote, they do not receive commensurate services like education, streets, health care, etc.

After Sultan's excellent introduction, we headed to several Bedouin villages, including Al-Quilya, where we had a delicious lunch seated on carpets. Huda was justifiably proud that the weaving industry she helped restart while she was here some years ago is doing a good job of helping support many Bedouin families. Many of us purchased rugs from the village's carpet shop.

Although we were in the far south of Israel, it was a short, 2-hour drive back to Jerusalem. I was relieved finally to be back online and able to send and receive e-mails home.

After a short break we met with Anglican Bishop Suheil Duwani, a friend of ours since his trip to Seattle last year. Bishop Suheil described his diocese, which consists of about 30 churches and 37 Anglican institutions (hospitals, homes, schools, etc.). There are 7,000 Anglicans in the diocese's five countries - Israel, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon.

Bishop Suheil's focus is on supporting the Christian community, which has been under extreme pressure, in the Holy Land. He hopes to build housing, provide education, and create all the conditions necessary to maintain a strong community here, which is important given that, pre-1948, Christians comprised 1/3 of Palestine's population. The number has slipped to just about 1%.

Interfaith cooperation has also been an important hallmark of Bishop Suheil's ministry. He meets each month with a group of Muslim and Jewish leaders to discuss ways in which they can help build peace in Israel/Palestine. Although ecumenical cooperation in Jerusalem seems scant, given the well-publicized fisticuffs between clergy at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Bishop Suheil's opinion is that the Christian community at the grassroots is strongly united.

Christians are often a bridge for peace and reconciliation between Muslims and Jews, according to the bishop. We pray that his ministry will help that role to flourish in the years ahead.


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