Israeli-Occupied Sinai-In the interior of the southern Sinai, the bleached desert sand gives way to red granite mountains rising up to seven and eight thousand feet.
It is a land full of enormous silence borken only by the wind, where multi-colored layers of rock rise up steep canyon or "wadi" wallas, and great stones lie scattered about, shaped and polished by wind and a million winter rains.ads. It is crisscrossed, though, by Bedouin paths where desert tribes have left a record of their seasonal migrations.
Few peoples have resisted the march of time as stubbornly as the desert Bedouin, but throughout the Middle East the modern world is rapidly foreclosing the old ways. In the fastness of the southern Sinai, it is still possible to hear an echo of the timeless desert life, but even here the customs, Patterns and traditions of the Bedouin Arab are breaking up and disappearing-yielding, finally, to the pressures of modernity that 10 years of Israeli occupation have accelerated.
Eid Suleman is in his 60s and has spent all his life in these granite hills. He knows all the paths and springs for mile around and can point out the old ruined kilns where, until a few years ago, the Bedouin made a cement from mud left in the wadis after a heavy rain.
Walk or ride with Eid into the high passes for a few days, with the camels grumbling and picking their way on padded feet over the rocky ground with the daintiness of dancers, or wake up in the pre-dawn cold of a wilderness morning to the hot, sweet Bedouin tea, and one can sense the remoteness of these mountains and the reasons for the rigid tribal codes that still govern the lives of the Bedouin.
The laws of hospitality are as rigid as in legend, and you can sip cardamom coffee brewed over camel-dung fires in black, goat hair tents, and listen to old men tell tales and recite poems of brave deeds and the dim past.
If you happen into an oasis garden and the owner is not there, you are allowed to eat the fruit if you are short of food. But you must leave the pits to show what you have done and that it was of necessity. If you remove the evidence it is tantamount to theft.
Many of the desert gardens-islands of lush green, full of dates and pomegranates and almonds-are going to ruin now, and Eid says the young men are no longer interested in the old ways.
In the 19th Century the desert bedouin captured the imagination of Europe as a free spirit unencumbered by the routine imposed by industrial society.
But this is a land where the flash floods of winter carry all before them and where, in summer, it is bone dry except for the few scattered oases.
And so the requirements of the traditional Bedouin life-to find water in the summer and the path to fresh pasture in the winter - are as demanding as those of any office or factory.
In the decade that has passed since Israel seized the Senai from Egypt, more change has come to the desert than in the previous 100 years. The Israelis brought medicine and education and brought medicine and education, and introduced the Sinai to the modern world.
Down the west coast of the Gulf of Aquaba they punched through a highway that has turned the beaches and coral reefs over to Israeli, Scandinavian and European tourists who litter the water's edge with cans, plastic bags and empty suntan oil bottles, despite the efforts of officials to keep it clean.
The bikini bathing suits of the coast are scandalous to the traditional Bedouin, but the young can earn more money on the coast than raising sheep and goats in the mountains, and so Bedouin youth has drifted away to the construction jobs and unskilled labor there and in the port of Eilat to the north.
Even in the interior, the Isralis have built an airstrip to fly in as many as 1,000 tourists a day to see the Sixth Century greek Monastery of St. Catherine - once one of the most remote in the world. The monastery stands in the shadow of Jebel Mousa (Mt. Sinai), where Moses received God's law while the children of Israel were wnadering away their 40 years in the Sinai wilderness. Because of its remoteness, the site was beyond the reach of Roman persecution, and it became a refuge for hermits and pilgrims as early as the Firsr Century A.D.
As social change sweeps over the desert, the political future of the Sinai remains in doubt. The Egyptians are calling for a return to the border that Israel held before 1967, and the Israelis have signaled their willingness to make territorial concessions in the Sinai. But Israeli Political and military planners say they have no intention of giving back all of Sinai, and where the line will fall eventually is anybody's guess.
As military occupiers, the Israelis have never had the same political problems with the desert Bedouin as they have had in the occupied areas of the West Bank and Gaza, where the people writhe under Israeli rule. The Bedouin have always looked down on townspeople and farmers everywhere, and their loyalty is to family and tribe, not to nation and political rights. To the Bedouin all administrations, be they Israeli, Egyptian, British, or Turkish, are foreign.
Clinton Bailey of Tel Aviv University, one of Israel's leading experts on the Sinai Bedouin, once met an old nomad who told him how the Bedouin compared the British administration with that of the Turks.
"We loved the British because they were fair to us," the old Arab said. "But we hated them because they were not of our religion. We loved the Turks because they were of our religion but we hated them because their administrators were oppressive and arbitrary." It was obvious that the old man was comparing the Israelis to the Egyptians, but of course he would never put anything to bluntly.
Wath most Bedouin would like would be no government at all - to be left alone to practice their centuries - old art of smuggling to supplement the desert economy. Smuggling still goes on across the Sinai, usually hashish going west and small consumer goods, such as razor blades, going east. But it has been substantially reduced by the opposing armies of Egypt and Israel, by the U.N. buffer zones and by the American-manned listening post that, according to current legend, can hear a rabbit breaking wind.
The Israelis will no longer allow Arab fishermen into the Gulf of Aqaba at night, and this has cut down on visits to the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian shores to pick up contraband.
Bailey, 41, has spent much of the 1970s crossing the Sinai by Land Rover, by camel and on foot with a tape recorder to record the old Bedouin poetry. The Bedouin, most of whom are illiterate, have a rich oral tradition of poetry to which their expressive language lends itself. But the desert poetry is fast dying out, and even the language has changed in the last few years as customs have become outmoded.
The young Bedouin no longer know many poems, and many cannot even understand the poems of their fathers because they draw so much on the old, indigenous culture and symbols that the young no longer need.
Bailey has written that because Bedouin life depended so much on the camel the desert Arab took an interest in every aspect of his animal.
An old timer would know that (1) a camel is in its prime when it has just out its canine teeth at age 6: (2) a pedigreed she - camel gives little milk and (3) a camel is considered a thoroughbred when it is descended from five generations with acknowledged pedigrees.
One of the Bedouin poems Bailey has collected translates:
Oh rider upon one who has cut canine teeth,
Whose hoofbeats on the broad plain inspire fear,
Plundered by her herdsman from a throughbred herd
No broker will take to the souk for sale.
She is sired by a male backed by six generations,
Hermother's milk would not fill a cup.
Her foreleg is lithe, her thigh a cup
And her waist is as slim as the bow of a rabaaba . . .
She carries saddlebags that shine, so fine is their wool,
And a carbine that drops the most stubborn of wolves.'
There are few wolves left in the Sinat and the Bedouin are allowed few carbines with which to shoot them. The pickup truck on the coast road is replacing the camel in the rugged interior, and a poetry of the spark plug has not risen to take the place of the old poems. An ancient tradition is dying before our eyes, Bailey fears, and may be gone within a generation.
Some Israelis have a special interest in the habits, customs and language of the Bedouin, for in the Bedouin they find a living link to the Old Testament stories and habits of their past.
Some Bedouin words, which cannot be found in any classic Arabic dictonary, closely resemble old Hebrew words. The Bedouin word for blade, for example, is 'la haib,' which is very close to the Hebrew word 'la hav.'
The Biblical tales of Abraham are really the legends of a wandering tribe which led much the same life as the traditional Bedouin tribe lives today. Consider the tale, in Genesis, of Hagar and Ishmael, her young son, who are cast forth into the desert. Their water runs out and, rather than see her child die of thirst, Hagar puts Ishmael under a bush and goes 'a good way off' to weep. An angel comes and says that God will not let the lad die, and a well is revealed to Hagar.
The Azaama tribe of Bedouin, living in the Negev and the Sinai, have much the same legend. It tells of an ancestor who, wandering in the desert and about to die, is led to water by God. And why not? In the desert the miracle of water is naturally the stuff of legends, and the finding of it the source of life.
Today the Bedouin still live during the summer in the reed huts that Jews all over the world commemorate during the Succoth holiday as the homes of the Israelites during their years in the Sinai. And today the Bedouin still eat the unleavened bread that Jews eat at Passover to recall their Exodus into Sinai from captivity in Egypt.
In the Arab world, where many people consider themselves to be the descendants of Ishmael, the Bedouin is an even more potent symbol.
Even in the urban centers of Damascus and Beirut, as the historian Jacques Berque once wrote, 'the emotional intensity of the desert dwellelrs has ijposed its ideal upon the opulent cities . . .' Or as anthropologist Raphael Patai writes, 'Although today the Bedouin constitute probably not more than 10 per cent of the population of the Arab world . . . the fact is that the Bedouin are looked upon as images and figures from the past, as living ancestors, as latter - day heirs and witnesses to the ancient glory of the heoric age.'