SAN FRANCISCO, California — Historically, the indigenous, tribal peoples of the Middle East, called the Bedouins or the Bedawi, have often been excluded or overlooked compared to the settled populations within the Levant region. Although a majority of the Bedouin community reside in the Negev desert, which is located in southern Israel by the border of Egypt, Bedouin individuals also live across the Levant, sometimes traveling into Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Iraq, among other countries. Bedouins come from a diverse range of ancestors, with a portion of the Bedouin community in Palestine originating from Sudan and other African nations.
The Modern Plight of the Desert Dwellers
Unfortunately, poverty and food insecurity are prevalent in Bedouin communities. The families within these groups are largely unable to access government programs and resources to aid them financially due to their nomadic lifestyles. Although research materials on the Bedouin community are difficult to find, some studies have been executed to investigate the population’s economic situation. As part of a study performed in 2008, Suleiman Abu-Bader and Daniel Gottlieb found that less than 9% of Bedouin females were part of the workforce in 2004 and more than three-quarters of the population experienced poverty in unregistered villages.
The nonprofit organization Bedouins Without Borders, created in 2015, aims to create awareness of the Bedouin community and advocate for the rights of Bedouins. As with other indigenous populations, the Bedouin people’s records are difficult to find, and thus, it is more difficult for them to access the resources they need. Therefore, part of the Bedouins Without Borders’ mission is to survey the Bedouin population and analyze the challenges they face in daily life.
Creating Bedouin Records
To aid in better serving the community and keeping track of the resources that families need, Bedouins Without Borders has established the Bedouin Data Bank for collecting basic information and the Bedouin Map to maintain a better understanding of the Bedouin movement over time. In working with mobile communities such as the Bedouin community that are always passing from place to place, it is necessary to log the activity of each tribal group and assess how their current circumstances shape factors such as food security.
The Bedouin youth themselves run these documentation programs, receiving training under the ALFURSAN initiative that Bedouins Without Borders developed to empower and motivate young people in the community. Organizational efforts such as these are crucial in providing the future skills that the Bedouin youth may need for their careers and bridging the cultural gap between the Bedouin community and other communities, making it beneficial on two fronts.
How Bedouins Without Borders Helps
One example of a program that Bedouins Without Borders offers to encourage development is Guardians of the Desert. Like the ALFURSAN program, Guardians of the Desert centers on self-empowerment and community strengthening efforts simultaneously through the youth’s direct engagement. Each of these programs offers valuable leadership positions to Bedouin teenagers and gives young Bedouin individuals the chance to spread awareness about their community and advocate for expanding economic opportunities.
As the Bedawi way of life shifts due to climate change, water shortages and the commercialization of desert areas, community leaders must rise to meet the challenge and tackle the economic issues faced with new methods. In response to increased financial insecurity, young adults in the Bedouin community have opted to become tour guides and implement their knowledge of the environment to educate others and produce revenue in the process.
In this pivot toward sustainable development and practices, ecotourism has become integral to creating a balanced way of life for the Bedouin people. To describe this economic sector succinctly, ecotourism is a method of promoting increased tourism to more remote areas of the world such as the Sahara Desert while also protecting the local ecosystem and informing visitors of how to support conservation efforts. In this manner, Bedouin nomads can produce the income needed for their daily lives without endangering the spaces they inhabit.
Thanks to the Bedouins Without Borders organization, Bedouin leaders and volunteers have designated specific regions as environmentally protected. The goals of establishing a protected area such as the Oasis include preserving land for animals to feed and ensuring that the Bedawi food sources remain abundant and plentiful despite climate change.
The Road Ahead
As a relatively new organization, Bedouins Without Borders has already established a dedicated group of volunteers and launched some promising projects to support its cause. As settlement conflicts continue in Palestine and Israel, Bedouins Without Borders remains diligent in protecting Bedouin interests and ensuring community safety. Currently, Bedouins Without Borders proceeds in its mission to inform people about the community and raise awareness by spotlighting young voices in the Bedouin Monitor section of its website. In 2021, it is hopeful that Bedouins Without Borders will further develop its environmental conservation and poverty reduction efforts for a better tomorrow.
– Luna Khalil