Troubled Birthplace of the Torah

Sinai Desert Is Descending Into Chaos and Violence

Stark and Lawless Land: The Sinai Desert was once a vacation spot for Israelis. It is turning into a fullblown battleground between Bedouins and Egyptians.
getty images
Stark and Lawless Land: The Sinai Desert was once a vacation spot for Israelis. It is turning into a fullblown battleground between Bedouins and Egyptians.

By Amotz Asa-El

Published May 25, 2012, issue of June 01, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The Sinai, where fire once shot into the heavens while Moses vanished in a thicket of clouds, is once again ablaze.

This Shavuot, the wilderness where morality was made law, is a fountainhead of lawlessness and strife, a microcosm of the Arab world’s ailments and a source of Israeli perplexity.

We Israelis know the Sinai better than any of our forebears since Moses. Having fought, served, hiked and vacationed there, we fell in love with the majestic moonscape where purple mountains and bronzy cliffs overlook golden dunes and azure reefs.

Following its return to Egypt, Israelis thronged every holiday to Sinai’s beaches, canyons and resorts. The long lines of vehicles in Eilat — where passports bearing the Jewish menorah were stamped with an Egyptian eagle, and vehicles with a little Israeli flag on their license plates were waved through an unassuming border crossing almost as naturally as one proceeds to Quebec from Vermont— were to us sweeter than any military victory.

Now, most of this is nostalgia.

What began in the 2000s with a slew of terror bombings in resorts along the Red Sea shore has since become a wholesale offensive on Egyptian authority, including raids on police stations, postal trucks and roadside checkpoints; harassments of the Sinai’s peacekeeping force, and attacks on the pipeline that exports gas to Jordan and Israel.

The Jewish state is, of course, a victim of the mayhem in Sinai, but its origins stem not from a conflict between Arabs and Jews, but from one between Arabs and Arabs.

More than half of the Sinai’s 400,000 inhabitants are Bedouin, semi-nomads who wander between oases while riding camels and herding sheep. When Egypt finally regained the Sinai in its entirety in 1982, the Bedouins soon learned two things: First, Cairo had great plans for the region, and second, there was nothing in it for them.

The great plan was a Red Sea Riviera, which the Egyptians indeed built, planting more than 100 resorts along 120 miles of turquoise shoreline where 5 million tourists arrived annually.

Alas, it all happened without the Bedouins. They were told to take to the mountains, where they became 90% unemployed. Watching from there as the Mubarak regime’s officials and their cronies took over the shoreline where they had been grazing for centuries, the Bedouin conclusion was simple: Cairo is the enemy.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.