Traditional Experiences with the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Highlands

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Avdat Community (Abde)

The Abde community is located in Negev Highlands, west of Highway 40, about seven kilometers south of Ben Gurion College and about 20 kilometers north of Mitzpe Ramon. Abde is the largest Bedouin community on the Negev Highlands. Here the Israeli government plans to establish a permanent, central settlement for all the Bedouin communities of the Negev Highlands.

The Abde community is located in Negev Highlands, west of Highway 40, about seven kilometers south of Ben Gurion College and about 20 kilometers north of Mitzpe Ramon. Abde is the largest Bedouin community on the Negev Highlands. Here the Israeli government plans to establish a permanent, central settlement for all the Bedouin communities of the Negev Highlands. The planning of the proposed settlement counts about 3,900 dunams (390 hectares). Some 1,200 dunams are designated for housing and the rest for agriculture, construction, and infrastructure development, including the infrastructure needed to develop local tourism services and projects. About 500 people (some 100 nuclear families) live in the Abde settlement at present.

The Abde community was founded in 1992 following the struggle of seven pioneering families from the Sarachin tribe, who demonstrated in front of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to allow the families to remain on the site. During the past three decades, these seven founding families still form the core of a very cohesive community. In Abde, residents hail from all Bedouin tribes and clans in southern Israel. Today, two more families of the Gansbib clan from the Dolem tribe and one large and well-established family of the Ziyadin tribe live in Abde. All the families live side by side, with good neighborliness relations that include marital ties.

A traditional sheep pen, surrounded by acacia branches, Abde (Photo: Ezry Keydar)

Following its decision in 2000, the government built an essential services compound in Abde, which includes an elementary school (grades 1-9), where about 300 Bedouin pupils from all over the Negev Highlands area come to school. The compound also houses a cluster of kindergartens. Students wishing to complete a high school education must travel as far as Bir Hadaj or Segev Shalom.

Abde’s residents view education as an opening to a progressive, modern future and as an essential element to ensure an increased level of education and raise the standard of living and income, i.e., all the conditions to enable the gradual transition to a permanent settlement. Unfortunately, the local medical clinic only offers minimal services. For most medical services, residents need to travel – with their own vehicles – to Be’er Sheva or Mitzpe Ramon. In addition, there is a local grocery store in Abda near the school (The prices are excellent!).

Until recent years, the community’s employment consisted mainly of Bedouin agriculture that uses traditional methods practiced in the area adjacent to Avdat National Park, close to the Nabatean city of Avdat. The Bedouin’s chief traditional agricultural practices include operating and preserving ancient terraces, water cisterns, agricultural barns, and other structures. They grow wheat and barley and raise herds of camels and sheep in the area’s pastures. However, due to the reduction of grazing areas, the low profitability of wheat and barley crops compared to industrial crops, and difficulties caused and barriers raised by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Green Police, most of the camels were sold, the herds were reduced and most of the sowing of grain in the fields was stopped. Today, most of Abde’s residents work outside the community, as employees in various jobs in the region or the settlements of Ramat Negev and Mitzpe Ramon Regional Council, in tourist and agricultural ventures, in the Nature and Parks Authority, as well as in casual jobs. Some have become independent contractors, e.g., heavy earth moving works, personnel contractors, etc.

Other residents own and operate tourist accommodations in traditional Bedouin tents and work in traditional agriculture. Such operations employ predominantly women.
Abde’s tourism project has gained momentum in recent years. The community at large is becoming involved and integrated into the Bedouin tourism project. Families, each in their occupation, host tourists for overnight stays, meals, workshops, handicrafts, and desert tours.

The tourist accommodation complex in Abda (Photo: Daniel Bar)

Abda has tremendous tourist potential. If the government’s promise regarding regulated construction and grazing areas were to be realized, the tourist potential would increase many times. The costs of establishing the settlement and developing the services and infrastructure systems require significant short- and medium-term investments. This investment is a fundamental obligation of the state towards its residents. Establishing a new rural settlement for Abde residents is an opportunity to deepen the integration of the Bedouin residents in the economic and social system of the area and as a tourist anchor.


Sources: The Shepherds’ Dwellings in the Negev Mountains by Bimlom association there and the memorandum for the establishment of a Abde