Israel Studies 2.2 (1997) 21-39
[Access article in PDF]
The Education of Israel's Negev Beduin:
Background and Prospects
THE EDUCATION OF BEDUIN-ARAB tribes has historically posed a unique challenge, especially given their nomadic/semi-nomadic lifestyle. During the last half century, Beduin life throughout the Middle East has undergone many changes. This is particularly true for the Beduin-Arabs of the Negev Desert in southern Israel, whose social, economic and political life has been altered quite radically since the establishment of the state of Israel. This article reviews the development of the educational system for the Negev Beduin-Arabs over the past five decades in relation to their changing environment, and evaluates its effectiveness in meeting the new challenges of educating this community.
Traditional Beduin Social Organization and Education
Arabs of the Middle East have developed three predominant settlement patterns from which they also take their identity: town dwellers [medani], villagers [qarawi], and desert-dwellers or Beduin [badwi]. Desert, village and city have been intimately related to each other in Arab society culturally, socially, and economically. Though the Beduin constitute only a small and declining proportion of the Arab population, they have played an important role in creating the values of Arab civilization, as well as holding important economic functions. 1 Traditionally, the Beduin adapted to their harsh desert environment by engaging in pastoral nomadism, and thus they served the vital role of the stock-breeders of the Middle East. Nomadic pastoralists have been classified into two types: nomads, who depended [End Page 21] totally on their animals (camels, goats and sheep); and semi-nomads, who practiced a combination of agriculture and herding. 2
Traditionally, the social and political organization of the Beduin community was tribal. The tribe was a state-like form of political organization which was based on kinship of a common ancestor and which had a definite territory. 3 Though the tribe also typically included a number of non-blood related extended families, it was defined as a single unit through universal recognition of the leadership of the Sheikh and his Beit [family]. The tribal leadership remained within the family of the Sheikh, making the political and social organization of the Beduin ascriptive rather than achievement-based. While the Beit was the basic economic unit, the Hamula [extended family], the Rubah [subtribe], and the Ashireh [tribe] were organized primarily to serve the tribal community's interests of mutual self-defense, collective pasture rights, and migrations. 4 The functions of the Sheikh were: 1) to allocate pasture and coordinate migration; 2) organize raiding; 3) settle disputes; and, 4) represent his tribe or any member of his tribe in important matters against the sedentary people or other tribes. 5
This paper deals with the Beduin tribes of the Negev Desert in southern Israel, who have inhabited this area since the 5th century A.C. 6 The majority of them derived their subsistence from herding and seasonal cultivation. 7 Historically, mutual self-defense in the Negev was maintained by local balances of power between opposing tribes. After the tribal war of 1890, tribal land boundaries remained fixed until the 1948 war, by which time the Beduin of the Negev numbered approximately 100,000, and were organized into 95 tribes. 8
The Beduin tribes of the Negev were divided into three hierarchical social classes according to their origin: a) true Beduin (nobles); b) Fellaheen (peasants), and 3) A'beed (blacks). The true Beduin, who originally came from the Arabian desert, made up the tribe's leadership class, and owned the vast majority of the lands. The Fellaheen came from villages on the fringes of the desert, and joined the Beduin tribes generations ago. They worked the land of the true Beduin as sharecroppers. The third group, the A'beed, were originally brought from Africa as slaves of the Sheikh's family, although slavery was abolished long ago. 9
Traditionally, most of Beduin education was not formalized, but was rather acquired through actual observation and participation in the process of day-to-day life. There was...