Traditional Experiences with the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Highlands

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About The Land of Tents Project

The Land of Tents Experience

The Land of Tents project aims to introduce the desert heritage and traditions preserved by the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Highlands to the public in Israel and abroad.

On the Negev Highlands, between Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon, few Bedouin families are left, constituting a population of 1250 altogether who preserve the old Bedouin way of life which is in danger of extinction.

These families are dispersed across five communities: Ramat Tsiporim, Wadi Hava, Abdah, Wadi Arikha, and Mitzpe Ramon.

These communities are an authentic, rare, and moving vestige to a unique culture which has almost disappeared in Israel in general, and specifically in the Negev.

This ancient and important local knowledge holds the key to the development of tourism in the region.

Bedouin heritage tourism has a significant role as a source of income on one hand, and to preserve the Bedouin communities’ unique culture on the other. However, the challenge of promoting and marketing Bedouin tourism lies in making the information accessible to the public.

It is very difficult for these small touristic ventures to maintain a marketing and sales set up in a digital world, with all its implications. This is where “Land of Tents” project comes into play.

The project takes care of everything to do with marketing, agents, website, sales, payments, refunds, taxes, insurance etc. Thus it allows the Bedouin hosts to focus on the activities themselves and allows you to enjoy it.

Negev Highlands Bedouin Communities

The traditional Bedouin way of life in the Negev Highlands is closely and inseparably connected to the desert’s unique environment. The knowledge these communities hold about raising livestock, traditional crafts, knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants, the terrain and water regime, is ancient and rich and constitutes a significant part of the region’s cultural heritage.

Before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Negev Highlands region was inhabited by members of the ‘Azazma Bedouin tribe – a large and widespread tribe, divided into 12 clans, or sub-tribes. Of these, two clans reside in the Negev Highlands until today: the Ziadin and the Sarahin.

The Sarahin tribe specialize in raising camels in addition to sheep and goats; and the Ziadin specialize in raising sheep and goats and in traditional farming. In addition, the Al-Kashkhar and Al-Waj families from the Janabib tribe have also been living in the Negev Highlands for many years.

For centuries, the Negev Highlands region was divided among the various clans of the ‘Azazma tribe, each with its own territory. They lived in small communities consisting of several extended families. They lived modestly in a pre-consumerist society, off a combination of livestock raising, traditional dry farming, and desert plant gathering. The tribespeople conducted seasonal migration between the cool mountain area (today’s Mitzpe Ramon and northward) during the spring and summer, and the great wadis, or streambeds, to the south, where the weather is more pleasant during the autumn and winter.

During the 20th century enormous internal changes occurred in Bedouin society, which was torn between progress and tribalism. The present generation of the Negev Highlands tribes combines the old culture’s way of life with slow processes of modernization
After the foundation of the State of Israel, the Bedouin residents had to adapt to the new reality created by the establishment of permanent settlements, creation of nature reserves, construction of military bases and closure of firing zones. Due to these limitations, the seasonal migrations to the camels’ and goats’ pastures were reduced, the Bedouins had to congregate in permanent settlements and started looking for alternative ways to make a living.

Indeed, in recent years, the Bedouins of the Negev Highlands have developed touristic projects which demonstrate traditional Bedouin hospitality and the preservation of the desert’s way of life. Development of these touristic ventures enables not only better possibilities to make a living and the employment of Bedouin women, but also – and above all – the active and long-lasting preservation of the old customs for future generations.

Keshet NGO’s activity among the Negev Highlands Bedouin communities

Keshet NGO, initiator and operator of the Land of Tents project, supports the creation of collaborations among the region’s residents – Jews and Bedouins – to strengthen human relations, with the goal of shared prosperity. We acknowledge the importance of preserving the Negev Highlands Bedouins’ desert heritage, and work in a variety of ways to help these tribespeople preserve their culture, which is in danger of extinction.

Besides “Land of Tents”, there are additional projects run by Keshet NGO related to these Bedouin communities:

  • Desert Kindergarten: Establishment of kindergartens in the Bedouin communities according to the “forest kindergarten” educational model, recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Education and adapted to the Bedouin population’s needs and heritage.
  • Regulation of Bedouin settlement: Keshet NGO provides legal representation to two of the region’s Bedouin communities – Wadi Chava and Wadi Arikha.
  • Good Neighbor-Ship Project: Meetings of acquaintance and exposure between Junior-high school students.

The Land of Tents initiative was created with the assistance of

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