June 28, 2007
Israel confronts shared future with Bedouin citizens
As population grows, the once-nomadic culture faces modernization
(Page 3 - Previous Page)"This will change minds," he insisted. "It will change things in the Negev."
He added that five Bedouin women and four men are currently studying with the medicine faculty. Seeing a Bedouin girl hard at work in the library, he said, "This is my dream. We've broken a mentality. We're changing the status of women in the Bedouin community."
No discussion on the Bedouin would be complete without mentioning Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva, which just marked the 10th anniversary of the Robert H. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development. The center's goals are to encourage university enrollment of Bedouin students, establish a cadre of Bedouin professionals to serve the Negev communities, assist Bedouin in attaining professions and well-paying jobs through higher education, support academic research about Bedouin societies in transition and sponsor seminars and conferences for researchers, community leaders and the public.
Bedouin students were unheard of when Ben-Gurion University opened its doors in 1969. According to official printed materials, from the school's initial graduating class through the year 1990, only 38 Bedouin obtained bachelor's degrees, just one of whom was female.
By the late 1990s, the number of female graduates increased to 22; from 2001-06, female Bedouin bachelor degree candidates jumped to 112. The comparable figure for men was 162. Bedouin who earned master's degrees in 2006 -- both genders included -- amounted to 31.
It's a beginning, believes New York City real estate developer Arnow, who's poured millions of dollars into the effort, as well as into other areas of study, such as solar energy, medicine and astrophysics, over his 25 years of involvement with the university.
"It's the beginning of a ripple.... I do feel the time is coming, and change is going to take place," he said. "This is a group that's becoming more entitled to their rights."
But why Arnow and why this populace?
Israel is a democracy, Arnow replied, "but you can't be a democracy for 80 percent -- you either are or you aren't." The Bedouin "are not going to go away. Someone must do something."
"If someone falls down, you help them get up," continued the 82-year-old. "These are Jewish values."
He quoted the oft-repeated phrase that "Israel will be judged by how it treats its Arabs," and then echoed something much older, much more profound and much more analogous to the matter at hand: "Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Carin M. Smilk is managing editor of The Jewish Exponent, where this article first appeared. It is reprinted with permission.