Bedouins of the Negev are an interesting part of the Israeli landscape. Their culture and their way of life make them a curiosity for all who pass the narrow roads of the Negev Highlands. As we become more dependent on technology, the free existence that we associate with the Bedouin entices us. The Bedouins moved into the Sinai desert from Arabia. Trade routes and better pasture lands lured them to the Negev. Their traditional lifestyle – living in small compounds with their flocks – reflected the desert’s ability to sustain life for small groups and specific lifestyles.
Until the last 30 years, Bedouin encampments were rarely seen by the casual visitor. Tribal compounds were far from the main roads. They were self-sufficient and moved with the flock. Large life-cycle events, such as weddings, which lasted a week, brought together larger groups of people and kept the traditions alive through an otherwise scattered group.
Some parts of Bedouin culture seem idyllic to modern man. Bedouins don’t tend to have many things, but they are masters of having enough. Items are praised not necessarily for their intended purpose but instead for their best purpose right now. These, combined with the perceived simplicity of life, make Bedouin culture interesting to us. Although I think that few “downsizers” would be willing to live in a Bedouin tent, the idea of fewer possessions, living in the present and focusing on the important things are more than undercurrents in popular quality-of-life philosophy, even if most people don’t come near to fulfilling these goals.
The interest in Bedouin culture and its philosophy echo in tourism. The manager of a Bedouin tent experience outside of Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev Highlands said that in the past 15 years he has seen a change in tourists who come to the desert. Fifteen years ago, the desert was about pushing the limits of extreme activities. How far can you push yourself, your bike, your jeep, to get the biggest adrenaline rush? Today, people are still hiking, biding and jeeping, but those activities have become simply the means. The tourist uses those means in order to fulfill the goal – arriving at far removed places to just get away from it all. Bedouins are perceived to fill that end goal; they are seen as the ultimate “get away from it all” people. Part of the allure of the Bedouins and why people are willing to take part of their vacation to spend with them is to connect with their lifestyle – free, unattached and authentic – a departure from the tourists’ everyday stresses.
There are many sites associated with the Bedouin and many ways to explore Israel’s friendly desert, from tea in a Bedouin tent to the newly developed Negev Highland Trail. On your next trip to Israel, consider taking some time to connect to the Bedouin culture – not just to learn, but to experience.