During Pesach season in Israel (2016), I had the opportunity to join Christine Darg (Jerusalem Channel/Exploits Ministry) in a day trip, which took us by bus to first visit a Bedouin village near Haifa and then onto Nazareth to meet Arab Israeli Christian and pro-IDF activist, Father Gabriel Naddaf. Many of us were looking forward to meeting this prominent Greek Othodox Arab Israeli, who was chosen to light one of the torches for the Independence Day Ceremony that year.
It was a wonderful and inspiring occasion, but it was our “Cinderella story” meeting earlier that day, in the relatively unknown village of Khawaled (in the Western Galilee not far from Kiryat Ata) that left such a profound impression. Hosted by Ishmael Khaldi and his family, “Ish,” is a published author and Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat to the US, serving as Deputy Consul General in San Francisco from 2006-2009. He characterizes his family and village as “the forgotten Israeli’s”. I was curious to understand his story and plight, as he hosted us in true Bedouin hospitality at his family home, bringing out all the Middle Eastern delights including; large bowls of hummus, flatbread with za’atar, dates and Arabic coffee.
A group of us walked the village as he gave commentary on the construction of these homes. We strolled among neatly planned, large, modern concrete two-story homes resembling many Israeli suburban neighborhoods. However, Bedouin culture was reduced to small backyard shacks and makeshift pens for livestock including sheep, goats, chickens and some Bedouin tents, still erected – just for a flavor of the past. Ish, who grew up with his 11 siblings in a Bedouin tent, explained when this village was laid out by the “city planners,” there was little recognition or understanding of Bedouin culture and lifestyle. Herds of goats and flocks of sheep are part of Bedouin culture, and this suburban enclave made no attempt to recognize the farming and herding needs of this community.
However, as Ish pointed out, the nearby kibbutz just a few kilometers down the road was zoned for farming and has a prosperous cattle raising industry. Ish can remember his grandmother was so friendly with the nearby kibbutz residents that she actually picked up Yiddish expressions, which he learned as a youth. Both communities are under the same planning board of the Zevulun Regional Council. Ish would like to see that same planning allow for the construction of proper fencing and sheds for the Khawaled Bedouins to care for their farm animals, which now wonder the hills in the day and are shepherded back to the makeshift pens for feeding times.
Road construction is another major problem. Although the community itself is paved, the residents appreciate the quiet and privacy of smaller roads by their homes, not large concrete swaths where public traffic can come close to the residential areas. But Ish’s present campaign is his tireless effort to advocate before the council the need for Khawaled to have a paved access road, just like the kibbutz has enjoyed for years, Presently, this dirt, bumpy, pond-filled road when the winter rains are pouring down, poses a real hazard for vehicles transporting elders to hospitals, children to schools and most everyone to the shopping areas in Kiryat Ata.
Ishmael expresses a deep love for Israel and although Bedouins are not obligated to serve in the IDF, he and many of his cousins have volunteered for duty and served the country. His advocacy is through awareness and education, as he brings his unique Bedouin perspective before the Council hoping they will understand his heart to be fully integrated, yet remain loyal to his historic Bedouin ethnicity.
Although there remains the challenge of planning and construction issues, plus underfunding of minority Bedouin communities in the Western Galilee, Ish is a true 20th century diplomat. He wins the heart of all who visit and experience the warm hospitality of the residents of Khawaled village and he uses Social Media and his book A Shepherd’s Journey to advance understanding and the plight of his people seeking a fair and just outcome. His is a road that he welcomes all to travel respectfully.