The Bedouin quandary
While there is a great deal of thoughtful perspective on the subject of the challenges confronting the State of Israel and its Negev Bedouin population, including the compelling op-eds by Phyllis Bernstein and Stephen Flatow (Jan. 23), the bottom line is that the complexity of the attendant issues makes it all but impossible to distill the matter down to relatively simple terms.
The question of how Israel can best address the needs and interests of the state, while concurrently contending with those of the 18 clans that constitute a population of more than 160,000 Bedouin Arabs living in the Negev, has been the subject of study and oftentimes intensive debate for more than a generation.
At its core is the question of the disposition of state lands and the manifold overlapping and often competing agendas, including: urbanization on a more or less significant scale; economic development as a local or regional issue; the challenge of providing quality infrastructure to multiple small communities sprawled throughout the desert that encompasses 60 percent of the country’s landmass; and limited open spaces available for IDF training. And, of course, there are the varying perspectives of Israel’s political parties, coalitions, and leaders, which subject to the implications of democracy are in continual motion. Finally, the Bedouin themselves are hardly homogeneous when it comes to Bedouin priorities or interests. Eighteen distinct clans reflect competition, rivalries, and dynamic levels of engagement with both local and national authorities.
In short, viewed up close, the issues are far more complex than they appear from a distance. What is most important is that exhaustive study is undertaken and a high level of literacy achieved before decisions are made. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is proud to play an important part in the efforts to understand the disparate issues facing the Bedouins and the government of Israel. The university has long been committed to increasing Bedouin access to higher education. It has made a priority of providing access to the growing number of talented young people, particularly young women, whose opportunities have been altogether too limited owing to longheld cultural norms increasingly at odds with a first-world, 21st-century society.
The Robert H. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, established more than a decade ago, has provided guidance and support to the growing number of Bedouin students at BGU and has helped create an expanding body of research on the issues connected with both challenges and opportunities at the community and regional levels. This research is an essential part of understanding the overall Bedouin quandary.
Today, the university is home to more than 600 Bedouin students, a network of preparatory programs for promising Bedouin high school students, and to a growing number of Bedouin faculty and staff. Progress is ongoing. While the underlying issues are replete with complexity, at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, each day offers glimpses into new possibilities and new frontiers.
Doron Krakow is executive vice president of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.