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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But before he explains Abu Kweider to me, he gives me a little lesson:

“We are Bedouins, we are not Druze.” Bedouin villages are made of tribes, he tells me, and the village called Abu Kweider is no exception.

Who are the Abu Kweiders?

“A family that’s originally from Gaza. If you want to know my opinion: They are not Bedouin!”

Good to know. And who is Magdi? “I am not a Zionist like the settlers are,” he tells me. “I am an Israeli. I respect the state, I even respect the Israeli anthem. When the Israeli football team succeeds I’m happy and I want them to get into the World Cup. I love Maccabi Tel Aviv very much.”

“Why then are you not a Zionist?”

“I never studied Zionism in much depth, and so I can’t say that I’m a Zionist. I was never raised to be a Zionist. To be a Zionist you have to study it, you have to study Ze’ev Jabotinsky.”

Magdi is a Bedouin, of course, who started his career in the IDF as a tracker, just like his father, and many others in his family. He rose in the ranks to become the chief commander of the trackers, but soon he will quit his job and move on to a university to study communication, to translate his army success into civilian success. Yet, unlike some Israeli Jews, his dream of success is inside Israel, not in Europe or America.

“It is our great luck — and I’m not trying to use flattery here, believe you me — that it so happened that we and the Jews are living together here,” he says. “It is our generation’s great fortune — my family, my parents and that of my grandparents’ — to be together with the Jews and live in Israel. Look around us, look at the Middle East, a region that has recently gone back 500 years. Israel is the only reasonable, healthy country in this region. This is a fact. The state of Israel is good for the Muslims, for the Christians and for the Jews. By the way: The Jews have not come here, to this place, for no reason. When you dig deep in the earth of this land, you see evidence of the Jews who have been living here many years ago. The Jews of our time, who came here from Europe, have their roots in this land. One thousand years ago there was a synagogue here, and 2,000 years ago there was a synagogue there. All in this land. The root of the Jews is here. And that’s why they came here last century. The Jews did not go to Turkey and said: ‘We demand Turkey for ourselves.’ They came here, to this country, to their ancient home.”

Magdi might not call himself “Zionist,” but he is the biggest Zionist I’ve ever met.

We drink some good Arab coffee, prepared by his soldiers, and abruptly he shares a personal story with me. “My wife’s mother,” he tells me, “is a Polish Jew.”

The Bedouin soldiers laugh as they imagine the Polish Jewish lady in a Bedouin tent.

“Do you speak Yiddish?” I ask him.

Another burst of laughter.

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