This pano was shot at the Bedouin goat market in Be'er Sheva, the largest town in the Negev Desert, which comprises the entire southern half of Israel. Every Thursday is Bedouin market day here. The market is actually consits of at least three markets: The Goat Market, The Bird Market, and what we (my wife and I) endearingly call , the "crap market ". We came in search of the animal market and expected to find something with camels and donkeys in addition to goats and other beasts. Unfortunately, it turns out that the animal market is only actually a goat market. On a hill across the road is the bird market which consists of about 20 people selling chickens, turkeys, ducklings and other fowl. The 'crap' market is one of those markets which we have seen all over the world including Israel, Guatemala, and New York City. They really seem to be cropping up all over this country as of late. The crap market consists of all kinds of cheap 'crap' like kitchen stuff, clothes and other inexpensive products produced in China and the Third World. However, at the center of this market were a few stalls selling actual Bedouin products, or something of the like. Mostly we found women's clothing (Nili bought a great hand-embroidered dress), Nargilot (hookahs), old brassware and Arabic music CDs.
This market is actually the remnant of what was once probably a much bigger market. "Modern" Be'er Sheva (formerly Bir Seb'a in Arabic) dates back to the Ottoman Turkish period. In the 1880’s, it was the administrative center of the Negev Bedouin tribes. These days, with modernization and the decreased reliance on agriculture for income, the animal market has shrunk considerably.
This was actually the only regular public animal market I was able to find in the whole country. There used to be a weekly animal market (with camels and donkeys!) just outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem but I heard it was moved about fifteen years ago to Nablus/Shchem, which is difficult and perhaps dangerous for me to visit at this point unfortunately as it is in the Palestinian Authority controlled area.
Ancient Be'er Sheva traces is roots back to Abraham the Patriarch (of both the Jewish and Arab peoples among others!). Here he dug a well and made a peace pact with Avimelech, chieftan of the Philistines. The name Be'er Sheva means "The well of the oath/pact" and the "well of seven". "So Abraham took flocks and cattle and gave them to Avimelech and the two of them entered into a covenant. Abraham set seven ewes of the flock by themselves...et al” (Genesis 21:27-28). Interesting note: after the oath, the text tells us that Abraham planted an “Eshel” (verse 33). An Eshel is a type of tree but is also an acrostic in Hebrew for “Achilah, Shtiyah, Levaya”, eating, drinking, and escorting in English. These are the 3 basic services a host should supply his guests. Two Talmudic sages dispute the meaning of this. One says that Abraham literally planted an orchard whose fruits served to feed wayfarers crossing the desert. The other says that is was an actual inn for lodging in which there was a supply of fruit. Either way, we still have a big town in the middle of the desert to enjoy some treats from the market!
Today, the Bedouin in some ways embody the meeting place between the ancient and modern world. Hospitality to the Bedouin is a deeply ingrained cultural value. Perhaps this is descended from Abraham. When one enters a Bedouin tent or home, your host is obliged feed and shelter you. He must even defend you to the death. Even if he is the guest’s most hated enemy, if you are in his household, he must defend you. Today, the Bedouin comprise about 12 percent of Israeli Arabs, about 110,000 people. There have been many problems arising from the collision of modern culture and society with the ancient Bedouin culture. Most obvious is the transformation from a nomadic culture to a settled population. Much of this has been forced upon the Bedouin by the Israeli Government. To me it is another chapter in the age old story of the modern civilization trying to wipe out the ancient. Prior to Israeli War of Independence, the Bedouins of the Negev made their living from agriculture and livestock. Today about half of the Bedouins in the Negev live in the poorest towns of Israel: the other half lives in unrecognized localities without basic services. The process of sedentarisation into townships has been forced on the Bedouins in a manner insensitive to their culture and traditional livelihood. Tensions have been very high between the state and the Bedouins regarding land ownership. That being said, the Bedouin have reaped some benefits of the modern world including socialized modern medicine and hospitals, higher education and advancement on the road to equal rights for women Bedouin society is traditionally male dominated to the extreme. Women are not allowed to leave home without a man and often do most of the work at the house while having little say in the running of the family. Physical abuse is a big problem as well. Additionally, as opposed to most Israeli-Arabs, many Bedouin serve in the Israeli army. They often serve as trackers. Perhaps this is due to their skill at existing in and communicating with the wilderness.
On a final note, we wish for peace between all the children of Abraham, and that this will spread to the rest of the world and usher in an age of forgiveness, understanding, environmental sustainability and peace.
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