Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jewish Bedouins

Some time ago, a video clip was circulating which speculated on the allegedly Jewish origins of Palestinians, including Bedouin tribes in the Judean desert and the Negev.

While visiting Petra earlier this month, we came across such a young Bedouin who claimed Jewish ancestry. Speaking in Hebrew, he told us that his family used to herd in areas stretching from around Beersheba to Jordan until the borders closed up and they were left on the other side. He says that his grandmother still lives in the Negev, and that he has visited the area on several occasions. He also claimed to have hosted a party at which alcohol was served. Asked how he reconciled drinking alcohol with his conservative and Muslim environment, he replied, nonchalantly, that, "as a Jewish [sic]", he and others are "allowed" to drink.

It would be very difficult to verify his claims, but what I found interesting was that he made them in the first place. Perhaps the tribe he hails from has an oral history that points towards a Jewish background. One of the supporting arguments that he relied on to make his case about his tribe's Jewish ancestry was the fact that, according to him, his tribe would curse others in the Petra area by telling them, "il'an saleebak" ("may your cross be cursed"). Our loquacious and easygoing friend told us that this reference to the cross was based on the originally Christian heritage of other people in the Petra area from who his tribe distinguished themselves. Or perhaps it was all a business strategy to sell more souvenirs.

Random Bedouins at Petra