The Bedouin Zionist Who Keeps Israel Safe

Meeting Proud Muslim Nomad Who Guards Israel's Border

Taking Aim at a Stereotype: Tuvia Tenenbom poses with his interview subject’s assault rifle.
Isi Tenenbom
Taking Aim at a Stereotype: Tuvia Tenenbom poses with his interview subject’s assault rifle.

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published March 19, 2014, issue of March 21, 2014.
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For days on end I have spent my time with countless Bedouins in the Negev, brought there by various NGO activists who wanted me to see how badly the Bedouins are treated by the Israeli Jews, and now I feel it’s time I meet a Bedouin who loves to represent himself, and his people, without any NGO helpers by his side.

So, I go north to meet Lt. Col. Magdi Mazarib, commander of the IDF’s trackers unit — a unit made up of Arabs who stand guard at Israel’s borders, risking their lives to protect Jews from Arab infiltrators. It sounds like a fairytale to me and I want to see if these people actually exist.

Welcome to Magdi’s kingdom.

Magdi sits in his army camp’s office, a huge smile on his face. Young Bedouins, all IDF soldiers, seem to drink every word coming out of his lips with much desire and the utmost respect.

This Magdi is a character, no doubt. As I walk in I see him using a rosary and I ask him if he’s Christian. “Would you like to have the rosary?” he replies, and hands it to me. Holding it in my hands I realize that this is a misbaha, an Islamic rosary, which has numerous beads for the 99 names of Allah.

I enjoy the feel of the rosary in my hands and we go on talking.

Are the Bedouins loyal to the state of Israel? I ask him.

“I’m an Arab, a proud Arab, a Muslim, a Sunni. And I am an Israeli too. These terms don’t contradict.”

I tell him that when I lived in this country, over 30 years ago, I never met a Bedouin who said, “I am Palestinian.” But that changed, didn’t it? Almost all of the Bedouins I meet these days define themselves as Palestinians.

Magdi does not seem impressed with my discovery: “A woman is loyal only to one man, not to two,” he tells me.

I tell Magdi that I talked with Bedouins in the Negev and they said to me, “The Jews are controlling us and we don’t want the Jews.”

“Which villages in the Negev did you go to?”

Many: Al-Sira, Al-Araqeeb, Abu Kweider —

“Let me tell you something, let me tell you what Abu Kweider is.”


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