Strange Bedouin Fellows

  • by Jay D. Homnick
  • 07-22-2022

There does exist a group of people who believe that every problem encountered in life is the result of a lack of foresight, a lack of alertness, a lack of concern and a lack of preparation on the part of a particular man. This group is affectionately known as “wives”. 

Some say this inspired the popular phrase, “A Lass and A Lack”… (I borrowed this joke from Professor Leslie Kathleen Hankins of Cornell.) 

          This brings us to “The Crisis That Does Not Exist”, which is that the Bedouin community, a much beloved group of nomadic tribes which has always been a good fit in the modern state of Israel, has turned into a growing headache at best, a clear and present danger at worst. I served in the Israel Defense Forces three decades ago (OMG! The handsome dude in the mirror can’t be that old…), and the ABC of Army life there was “Arabs no, Bedouins and Christians and Druze yes”. The Bedouins are legendary trackers, waxed alert by their nomadic ways to the barest nuance of shift in the topography of both arid and arable land. When they signal in an open area of utter silence that danger lurks past yon fork in the road, you use your hands and not the fork. 

          This arrangement has mutually benefited Israelis and Bedouins for an awfully long time, considering as the State of Israel has already reached the ripe old age of 74. “War without and peace within” is not a bad temporary formula until we get to “without war and within peace”. All of this pleasant news about the peaceful Bedouins helping us fight wars used to promote positive thinking about the future, but that sort of thing over time often degenerates into wishful thinking. All of which have let us into the present “pretty pass”, which even I (steeped in euphuism) know to be a euphemism. 

          Here is reality. The Bedouin culture is based on polygamy, several wives to one husband. Many societies that were used to living dangerously adopted this practice over the generations, because men tended to die by violence while the women accepted less rights in return for less responsibilities. Now we are at a point in history where men rarely die young in combat or hunting, so maintaining a polygamous society requires the import of women from elsewhere. And since warring for women is no longer cool, that leaves one option: cash. You pay a proud Papa a few sheep and the sheepish bride is welcomed into your flock. 

          Where do modern Bedouins find a marketplace for these transactions? Another population that is not fully rooted, and one that lets its boys blow themselves up periodically. Yes, the Palestinians. And so at the crossroads between the ancient and the modern, the societal and the feral, the settled and the nomadic, we find the Palestinian woman marrying the Bedouin man to live the Bedouin lifestyle. As Westerners we pity the woman in that circumstance, but in their gritty reality the women get down to the scrappy business of tussling for the man’s attention. And the result in the Bedouin huts scraped together from scrap metal is no different than it was for King Solomon in his castle trying to acculturate the daughter of Pharaoh. The woman uses her aptitude to whittle away at the man’s attitude. 

          Bottom line: the Bedouin community is being proselytized from within to sympathize with the Palestinian cause. 

          Thus, Israeli society is coming face to face with a new phenomenon. Young Bedouins are beginning to engage in terrorist activity on behalf of the Palestinians. But the news media tries to paper this over by fuzzy-ing up the facts. The government is happy to accept this voluntary interference run by the media; saves them from having to do their own dirty work. 

          Terrorism is not the only problem. Economically the Bedouins have learned to parlay their untouchable status into lots of government subsidies. For example, one wife is on the books, but the rest are officially single mothers, unemployed, collecting Israeli welfare checks. Also, they rack up gas and electric bills in one location, then they pull up stakes and start over elsewhere. They also shift their mobile housing near the Palestinian border and near the Egyptian border, creating transit points for illegal drugs and weapons. 

          So you heard it here first. The effort by the Israeli government to keep this “under a blanket” is working for now, but it was Shakespeare who said in The Tempest that “misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”. It would appear to be true of strange Bedouin fellows as well…