Category Archives: Arab History

Culture and History, 12 Days Tour

Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem

This is not a conventional tourist tour, it’s almost a fact finding tour. You will dive into the hundreds of thousands of years of history about the country of Israel. We will not only see the origins of the three or four major religions in Israel, but far before that. We will see the birth of many civilizations and how they are still alive in some form. Not only the history, but also the cultures of the past and the current day. This is the way how to understand such complex country as Israel. You will learn, see, hear, feel and taste more then you can ever learn at any school for many years … and that all in such a short time.

This tour is for anyone (except children and only adults), but also for students, teachers, professions, historians, politicians (maybe they learn something), etc.

Day 1 – Arrival
Day 2 – Tel Aviv, Jaffa
Day 3 – Be’er Sheva, Negev
Day 4 – Negev, Dead Sea, Masada
Day 5 – Jerusalem Old City
Day 6 – Jerusalem Old City
Day 7 – Jerusalem New City
Day 8 – Sea of Galilee
Day 9 – Golan Heights
Day 10 – Golan Heights
Day 11 – Acre, Haifa
Day 12 – Departure

What do you see?

  • Day 2 – Start with Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Galleries, Neve Tsedek, Rothschild Blvd, Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv Museum of Art
  • Day 3 – Be’er Sheva, Negev, Judean monarchy, Sde Boker, Tsin Valley, Avdat, Mitspe Ramon, Makhtesh, Ramon Crater Visitor Center
  • Day 4 – Ramon Crater, jeep tour, Saharonim Fort, Dead Sea, Masada
  • Day 5 – Jerusalem, Tower of David Museum, Jewish Quarter, Broad Wall, the Herodian Mansions, Cardo, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  • Day 6 – Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall, Southern Wall Excavations, Davidson Center, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tomb of Jesus, Russian Orthodox Church, Ethiopian courtyard, Old City markets.
  • Day 7 – Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Children’s Memorial, Hall of Remembrance, Knesset, Supreme Court building, Israel Museum, Dead Sea Scrolls, Shrine of the Book, Second Temple Model
  • Day 8 – Iron Valley, Tel Megiddo, walls of Solomon, Armageddon, Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabha, Mount of the Beatitudes
  • Day 9 – Golan Heights, Gamla, Katsrin, Talmudic Village, Golan Antiquities Museum, Druze villages of Buq’ata and Mas’ade, pool of Birket Ram, Druze shrine of Nebi Yafouri, Jordan River, Hula Valley.
  • Day 10 – Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Oforia, Tel Hazor, Safed
  • Day 11 – Rosh Hanikra, Acre, Knights Halls, Al-Jazaar Mosque, Haifa, Bahai Gardens

Day 1 – Arrival

Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport

This is the day that you arrive in Israel. Well, it’s not the case for those who are already here or who are living in Israel.

For those who are arriving in Israel, will be picked up from the airport by the guide and driver from Shalom Israel. And here it becomes complicated.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel and for this tour it means Tel Aviv.

During the drive to your hotel, the bus will stop multiple times if the group requires so. One stop is for stretching your legs and to be fed real food and drink. That is included in the tour! So, please don’t spend your money on that.

Day 2 – Tel Aviv, Jaffa

Places: Start with Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Galleries, Neve Tsedek, Rothschild Blvd, Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv Museum of ArtTel Aviv

Tel Aviv in 1909
Tel Aviv in 1909

Tel Aviv was founded on April 11, 1909. On that day, several dozen families gathered on the sand dunes on the beach outside Yafo to allocate plots of land for a new neighborhood they called Ahuzat Bayit, later known as Tel Aviv. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Akiva Arieh Weiss, chairman of the lottery committee and one of the prominent figures in the city’s founding, gathered 66 grey seashells and 66 white seashells. Weiss wrote the names of the participants on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. He paired a white and grey shell, assigning each family a plot, and thus Tel Aviv’s founding families began building the first modern, Hebrew city.

We start the tour with Tel Aviv-Jaffa:


We will wander through the lanes of ancient Jaffa and enjoy the galleries, the underground archaeological display and the picturesque fishing port.

Neve Tsedek Neighborhood

Proceed to Neve Tsedek, the first Jewish neighborhood outside ancient Jaffa. Neve Tsedek is the home of the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, the world-famous Bat Sheva Dance Company and a number of restored homes and shops with interesting architecture. Among these is the museum dedicated to the works of the early Tel Aviv artist who captured its spirit in the early days, Nahum Gutman.

Speaking of architecture, in July 2003, UNESCO proclaimed the cluster of homes and public buildings of Tel Aviv’s founding days as a World Heritage Site. A stroll through the main area of these monuments, known as the “White City,” along Rothschild Blvd. and its side streets is a wonderful opportunity to savor life in the first Hebrew city, past and present.Nahalat Binyamin

Nahalat BinyaminOn Tuesdays and Fridays, see the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall come alive with stalls selling handicrafts of every type. Proceed to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and visit the Israeli Art section for a taste of Israel’s finest art from the past 100 years.

Enjoy the nightlife of a city that never sleeps.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tel Aviv.

Day 3 – Be’er Sheva, Negev

Places: Be’er Sheva, Negev, Judean monarchy, Sde Boker, Tsin Valley, Avdat, Mitspe Ramon, Makhtesh, Ramon Crater Visitor Center

Be’er Sheva
Be’er Sheva

The capital of the Negev, the Old City, the university, the Turkish railway station, and the Bedouin market represent only a part of the colorful mosaic offered by the city of Be’er Sheva, a city full of life and proud of itself, as you will be told by any of its 185,000 inhabitants.

Be’er Sheba, spelt Beersheba in most English translations of the Bible, is a major crossroads whose potential was felt by Abraham, father of the Jewish and Muslim people, who arrived here 3,700 years ago. He dug a well to water his flock, made a covenant of peace with Abimelech, the king of Gerar in those days, and the two swore allegiance to one another.


“Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath” (Genesis 21, Verse 21). To symbolize his ownership of the well, he planted a tamarisk tree. Thus the city of Be’er Sheba struck roots at that place and at that time. Abraham’s descendants continued to live here, in a place that was the cradle of monotheism.

Drive south to Tel Be’er Sheva, another of the many UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites on this itinerary. This ancient town, overlooking the modern capital of the Negev that has retained the ancient name, functioned as the administrative center for the Judean monarchy during the Iron Age, beginning some 2,800 years ago. Among the most impressive finds here are the corner stones of an altar and a large-scale water project that served the city during both war and peace.

Continue south to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the central Negev and the home of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. Visit Ben-Gurion’s modest home and the nearby exhibition portraying his life and his vision for this region, and stop at his tomb, overlooking the magnificent Tsin Valley.

Sde Boker

Proceed to Avdat, once a central city on the Nabatean trade route (known as the Incense Route) connecting Petra and the port of Gaza.

Further south, at Mitspe Ramon, you’ll find a small desert town built on the edge of a fascinating geological formation known as a makhtesh, or crater. Stop at the Ramon Crater Visitor Center to understand how this unique water-erosion formation, found only in Israel, came into being, and learn more about the region’s nature and wildlife, as well as the peoples who called it home in centuries past.

  • Everyone will be driven by bus to their hotel in Mitspe Ramon or Be’er Sheva.

Day 4 – Negev, Dead Sea, Masada

Places: Ramon Crater, jeep tour, Saharonim Fort, Dead Sea, Masada

Map of Negev

The Negev, which extends over Israel’s southern region, accounts for over half of Israel’s land area. Due to its desert character, however, this region is sparsely populated.

Even so, the Negev has seen its share of history. Abraham built his home in Be’er Sheva, the Nabateans passed through here on caravans of camels laden with precious trade goods. For these and other reasons, the Negev has become one of Israel’s popular tourism sites.

Various peoples have lived in the Negev since the dawn of history: nomads, Canaanites, Philistines, Edomites, Byzantines, Nabateans, Ottomans and of course Israelis. Their economy was based mainly on sheep herding and agriculture, and later also on trade.

Saharonim Fort
Saharonim Fort

Get an early morning start with a hike in the Ramon Crater or a pre-arranged jeep tour, which you can book through the Visitors Center or area hotels. Stop at the Saharonim Fort, once a caravan on the Incense Route.

Dead Sea

Drive northeast to the Dead Sea, to explore Masada, scene of epic stand by Jewish rebels at the end of the great revolt against Rome nearly 2,000 years ago. The new museum at the visitors’ center reveals the secrets of the daily lives of the rebels, tells the story of the excavations, and shows why the site became one of Israel’s most important symbols.

Palace-fortress at Masada

Finish the day with a dip in the saltiest, lowest body of water in the world, enjoy a health treatment and spend the night at one of the fine hotels along the shores of the Dead Sea.

  • Everyone will be driven by bus to their hotel in Dead Sea.

Day 5 – Jerusalem Old City

Places: Jerusalem, Tower of David Museum, Jewish Quarter, Broad Wall, the Herodian Mansions, Cardo, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Travel to the Old City of Jerusalem:

Old City Jerusalem
Old City Jerusalem

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.

Given the city’s central position in both Israeli nationalism and Palestinian nationalism, the selectivity required to summarize more than 5,000 years of inhabited history is often influenced by ideological bias or background. For example, the Jewish periods of the city’s history are important to Israeli nationalists, whose discourse states that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees, while the Islamic periods of the city’s history are important to Palestinian nationalists, whose discourse suggests that modern Palestinians descend from all the different peoples who have lived in the region. As a result, both sides claim the history of the city has been politicized by the other in order to strengthen their relative claims to the city, and that this is borne out by the different focuses the different writers place on the various events and eras in the city’s history.

Start out with an overview, literal and figurative, of the Holy City, Israel’s capital, as you explore the Tower of David Museum, showcasing the history of Jerusalem from its beginning to modern times.

Old City Jewish Quarter

Continue to the Jewish Quarter which was home to European and Sephardic Jews during the centuries under Ottoman rule, and visit the 2,700-year-old Broad Wall, the Herodian Mansions and the Cardo.

Finish the day at the City of David, including Warren’s Shaft, the new Visitors Center and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, through which water has flowed since the days of King Hezekiah some 2,700 years ago.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 6 – Jerusalem Old City

Places: Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall, Southern Wall Excavations, Davidson Center, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tomb of Jesus, Russian Orthodox Church, Ethiopian courtyard, Old City markets.

The Old City is a 0.9 square kilometers (0.35 sq mi) walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem. Until 1860, when the Jewish neighborhood Mishkenot Sha’ananim was established, this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981.

Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four uneven quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century. Today, the Old City is roughly divided (going counterclockwise from the northeastern corner) into the Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter. The Old City’s monumental defensive walls and city gates were built in the years 1535-1542 by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The current population of the Old City resides mostly in the Muslim and Christian quarters. As of 2007 the total population was 36,965; the breakdown of religious groups in 2006 was 27,500 Muslims (up from ca. 17,000 in 1967, with over 30,000 by 2013, tendency: growing); 5,681 Christians (ca. 6,000 in 1967), not including the 790 Armenians (down to ca. 500 by 2011, tendency: decreasing); and 3,089 Jews (starting with none in 1967, as they were evicted after the Old City was captured by Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with almost 3,000 plus some 1,500 yeshiva students by 2013, tendency: growing).

Temple Mount

Start out with a visit to the Temple Mount, site of the sacrifice of Isaac, the Jerusalem Temples, and the ninth-century Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

See the Western Wall, sacred to the Jewish people as the last remnant of the Second Temple. Visit the Southern Wall Excavations, walking on the original two thousand-year old street and climbing the ancient steps. At the Davidson Center, in the basement of an eighth-century CE palace, make arrangements to see the virtual-reconstruction, high-definition interactive model.

Church Of The Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem

Next, explore the venerable Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus according to Christian tradition. You will notice the many Christian denominations represented in the church, distinguished by their dress and liturgy – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox , each in their own corner of the ancient complex. Explore some of the other interesting churches in the Old City, including the Russian Orthodox Church with its basement ruins, and the tranquil Ethiopian courtyard and humble chapel.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Wander through the Old City markets, steeping yourself in its sights, sounds and aromas, and try your hand at hunting and bargaining for treasures.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 7 – Jerusalem New City

Places: Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Children’s Memorial, Hall of Remembrance, Knesset, Supreme Court building, Israel Museum, Dead Sea Scrolls, Shrine of the Book, Second Temple Model

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

Start the day with a Visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Walk through the astounding new Museum with its new and moving focus on the individual in the Holocaust, the Children’s Memorial and Hall of Remembrance.

Israeli Parliament Building

Drive through the New City viewing old and new neighborhoods, the Knesset (The Israeli Parliament, open for visits on Sundays and Thursdays) and the beautifully designed Supreme Court building.

Dead Sea scrolls, the secret one

At the nearby Israel Museum, among many other fascinating exhibits discover the mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book and see the Second Temple Model of Jerusalem.

Finish the day with optional evening tours that explore the development of Jerusalem from the 19th century on. (Must be pre-arranged; can be booked through the concierge at your hotel.)

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 8 – Sea of Galilee

Places: Iron Valley, Tel Megiddo, walls of Solomon, Armageddon, Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabha, Mount of the Beatitudes

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias , is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km (33 mi) in circumference, about 21 km (13 mi) long, and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide. The lake has a total area of 166.7 km2 (64.4 sq mi) at its fullest, and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m (141 feet). At levels between 215 metres (705 ft) and 209 metres (686 ft) below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake overall (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake). The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.

In 1989 remains of a hunter-gatherer site were found under the water at the southern end. Remains of mud huts were found which are the oldest known buildings in the world.

Via Maris
Via Maris

The Sea of Galilee lies on the ancient Via Maris, which linked Egypt with the northern empires. The Greeks, Hasmoneans, and Romans founded flourishing towns and settlements on the land-locked lake including Gadara, Hippos and Tiberias. The first-century historian Flavius Josephus was so impressed by the area that he wrote, “One may call this place the ambition of Nature.” Josephus also reported a thriving fishing industry at this time, with 230 boats regularly working in the lake. Archaeologists discovered one such boat, nicknamed the Jesus Boat, in 1986.

Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous ribbon development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat. The Synoptic gospels of Mark (1:14–20), Matthew (4:18–22), and Luke (5:1–11) describe how Jesus recruited four of his apostles from the shores of Lake Galilee: the fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus’ famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here including his walking on water, calming the storm, the disciples and the boatload of fish, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha).

Arthur_Szyk 1894-1951 - Bar Kochba 1927 Paris
Arthur_Szyk 1894-1951 – Bar Kochba 1927 Paris

In 135 CE Bar Kokhba’s revolt was put down. The Romans responded by banning all Jews from Jerusalem. The center of Jewish culture and learning shifted to the region of the Galilee and the Kinneret, particularly the city of Tiberias. It was in this region that the so-called “Jerusalem Talmud” was compiled.

Old city Tiberias

Leaving Jerusalem, drive along the coast and cut through the historic Iron Valley to Tel Megiddo.

Tel Megiddo
Tel Megiddo

Home to a palace and walls of Solomon, a complex water system built by King Ahab, scene of Armageddon and believed to be the backdrop for James A. Michener’s novel “The Source,” Megiddo is one of Israel’s most important and impressive archaeological sites, also a World Heritage Site.

Capernaum at the time of Jesus. Art by Balage Balogh
Capernaum at the time of Jesus. Art by Balage Balogh

Continue to the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee and visit the Galilee’s cradle of Christianity – Capernaum, Simon Peter’s home town, Tabha, commemorating the miracle of the Fishes and Loaves, and the Mount of the Beatitudes, the scene of the Sermon on the Mount.


Consider the option of a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee this evening.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tiberias.

Day 9 – Golan Heights

Places: Golan Heights, Gamla, Katsrin, Talmudic Village, Golan Antiquities Museum, Druze villages of Buq’ata and Mas’ade, pool of Birket Ram, Druze shrine of Nebi Yafouri, Jordan River, Hula Valley.

Map of the Golan

The Golan Heights or simply the Golan or the Syrian Golan, is a region in the Levant.

The exact region defined as the Golan Heights is different in different disciplines:

  • As a geological and biogeographical region, the Golan Heights is a basaltic plateau bordered by the Yarmouk River in the south, the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley in the west, Mount Hermon in the north, and the Raqqad Wadi in the east. The western two-thirds of this region are currently occupied by Israel, whereas the eastern third is controlled by Syria.
  • As a geopolitical region, the Golan Heights is the area captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War, territory which Israel effectively annexed in 1981. This region includes the western two-thirds of the geological Golan Heights, as well as the Israeli-occupied part of Mount Hermon.

The earliest evidence of human habitation dates to the Upper Paleolithic period. According to the Bible, an Amorite Kingdom in Bashan was conquered by Israelites during the reign of King Og. Throughout the Old Testament period, the Golan was “the focus of a power struggle between the Kings of Israel and the Aramaeans who were based near modern-day Damascus.” The Itureans, an Arab or Aramaic people, settled there in the 2nd century BCE and remained until the end of the Byzantine period. Organized Jewish settlement in the region came to an end in 636 CE when it was conquered by Arabs under Umar ibn al-Khattāb. In the 16th century, the Golan was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and was part of the Vilayet of Damascus until it was transferred to French control in 1918. When the mandate terminated in 1946, it became part of the newly independent Syrian Arab Republic.

Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967. It was captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, establishing the Purple Line.

On 19 June 1967, the Israeli cabinet voted to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement, although this was rejected after the Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967. In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel agreed to return about 5% of the territory to Syrian civilian control. This part was incorporated into a demilitarized zone that runs along the ceasefire line and extends eastward. This strip is under the military control of UNDOF.

Gamla Nature Reserve

Ascend the Golan Heights and stop for an overview of Gamla, a Jewish stronghold nearly 2,000 years ago, and also a bird sanctuary where Griffon’s vultures soar overhead.

Ancient Katzrin Park

Proceed to Katzrin, the central town of the Golan, and visit its Talmudic Village, featuring a restored home and synagogue. Then meet the locals over a falafel or pizza at the commercial center at Katzrin, where you can also visit the Golan Antiquities Museum, displaying the impressive archaeological finds discovered through the region.


Drive to the northern Golan through the Druze villages of Buq’ata and Mas’ade, stop at the lovely pool of Birket Ram and visit the fascinating Druze shrine of Nebi Yafouri, nestled among apple orchards.

Birket Ram

Descend from the Golan along the tributaries of the Jordan River and settle down for the night in one of Israel’s most beautiful regions – the Hula Valley.

Hula Valley
Hula Valley
  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tiberias.

Day 10 – Golan Heights

Places: Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Oforia, Tel Hazor, Safed

Start the day with a visit to the Hula Valley Nature Reserve. The reserve has lovely walking trails, including a “floating bridge” over the wetland, and special lookout points where visitors can observe the avian wildlife.

In the spring of 1994 another stage in the campaign to restore natural balance in the Hula Valley was completed: the re-flooding of 250 acres now known as Lake Agmon, located approximately two kilometers north of the Hula Nature Reserve. Visitors can visit the re-flooded area to appreciate nature’s powers.

While at the Hula Valley Nature reserve don’t forget to stop at Oforia, a fun multimedia display that tells the story of the migratory route across the region and the millions of birds that use it.

Tel Hazor National Park

Continue to Tel Hazor. One of the principal cities on the Fertile Crescent, Hazor engaged in trade with cities in Babylon and Syria. The Bible refers to Hazor as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10). As you explore the ruins, including the beautifully restored palace, the water system and other gems, you’ll understand why Tel Hazor, too, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Safed inn

Proceed to Safed, one of the four holy cities in Israel and the home of Lurian mysticism, a branch of Jewish mysticism conceived by the 16th -century Rabbi Isaac Luria, the traditional author of the seminal mystic work, the Zohar. Stroll along the lanes of the Old City and see its many synagogues, as well as its unique artist’s colony.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tiberias.

Day 11 – Acre, Haifa

Places: Rosh Hanikra, Acre, Knights Halls, Al-Jazaar Mosque, Haifa, Bahai Gardens

Acre or Akko or Acco

Acre is a city in the northern coastal plain region of northern Israel at the northern extremity of Haifa Bay. The city occupies an important location, as it sits on the coast of the Mediterranean, traditionally linking the waterways and commercial activity with the Levant. Acre is one of the oldest sites in the world.

Sack of Acre

Historically, it was a strategic coastal link to the Levant. In crusader times it was known as St. John d’Acre after the Knights Hospitaller of St John order who had their headquarters there. Acre is the holiest city of the Bahá’í Faith, and as such gets many Baha’i pilgrims. In 2011, the population was 46,464. Acre is a mixed city, that includes Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is. The mayor is Shimon Lankri, who was re-elected in 2011.

Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the region. The name Aak, which appears on the tribute-lists of Thutmose III (c. 15th century BC), may be a reference to Acre. The Amarna letters also mention a place named Akka, as well as the Execration texts, that pre-date them. First settlement at the site of Ancient Acre appears to have been in the Early Bronze Age, or about 3000 BC. In the Hebrew Bible, (Judges 1:31), Akko is one of the places from which the Israelites did not drive out the Canaanites. It is later described in the territory of the tribe of Asher and according to Josephus, was ruled by one of Solomon’s provincial governors. Throughout Israelite rule, it was politically and culturally affiliated with Phoenicia. Around 725 BC, Akko joined Sidon and Tyre in a revolt against Shalmaneser V.

Rosh Hanikra Grottoes

Start the day by driving along Israel’s northern road all the way to Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean. Here the rocky cliffs descend steeply into the sea, allowing the waves to carve grottos of a thousand shapes. Take the cable car down to the grottos for a short stroll through the rocky passageways.

Drive south to Acre, a historic walled port-city with continuous settlement beginning in the Phoenician period. The remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact both above and below today’s street level. The remains provide an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom, along with touches of the Ottoman period during the 18th and 19th centuries, when Acre was a fortified market town.

Hospitaller Fortress also known as the Citadel of Acre
Hospitaller Fortress also known as the Citadel of Acre

Explore the Knights Halls, the Al-Jazaar Mosque, the bathhouse with its multi-media display, and the new ethnic museum, built right into the rooms of the old wall.

Louis Promenade, Haifa

Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third largest city in the country, with a population of over 277,082. Another 300,000 people live in towns directly adjacent to the city including Daliyat al-Karmel, the Krayot, Nesher, Tirat Carmel, and some Kibbuzim. Together these areas form a contiguous urban area home to nearly 600,000 residents which makes up the inner core of the Haifa metropolitan area. It is also home to the Bahá’í World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and destination for Baha’i pilgrims.

Mount Carmel Lookout Point

Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the history of settlement at the site spans more than 3,000 years. The earliest known settlement in the vicinity was Tell Abu Hawam, a small port city established in the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE). In the 3rd century CE, Haifa was known as a dye-making center. Over the centuries, the city has changed hands: It has been conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the city has been governed by the Haifa Municipality.

Haifa bay

Continue to the modern port city of Haifa; visit the picturesque restored Templer Colony and the gorgeous terraced Bahai Gardens, and enjoy the view from the top of Mount Carmel.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Haifa.

Day 12 – Departure

This is the day of the departure. We bring everyone back to the point where we picked them up.

Ramla, the City with the Colorful Markets

It’s not quite as old as nearby Jaffa – history here stretches back ‘only’ 1300 years – but Ramla’s bustling market, underground pools and crumbling Islamic architecture make it an interesting half-day trip from Tel Aviv. Try to visit on a Wednesday, when the market is at its busiest and most colorful. Map.


Established in 716 CE by the Umayyid caliph Suleiman, Ramla (spot of sand) was a stopover on the road from Egypt to Damascus. Prior to the arrival of the Crusaders in the 11th century, it was Palestine’s capital and it maintained its importance in the Middle Ages as the first stop for the Jerusalem-bound pilgrims who came ashore at Jaffa. Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the majority of the Arab population were expelled or fled and was replaced by poor Jewish immigrants, mainly from Asia (eg India) and North Africa. It’s now a friendly mix of Arabs (20%) and Jews (80%).

A joint ticket for the Ramla Museum, White Tower and Pool of Al-Anazia costs 22/25NIS adult/concession and can be purchased at the museum. The museum acts as the town’s de facto tourist information centre. For information, see the municipality’s Goramla ( website.

Pool of Al-Anazia (HaHaganah St; adult/concession 14/12NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri, to 6pm Wed & Thu Jun-Aug ) Map.
The name means ‘Pool of Arches’, a reference to the majestic stone structures in this underground 8th century reservoir. The most significant structure left from the Abbasid period, it is sometimes called the Pool of St Helena in reference to a Christian idea that the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine I, ordered its construction. Visitors explore the structure by rowboat.

Pool of the Arches - Ramla
Pool of the Arches – Ramla

Ramla Museum (08-929 2650; 112 Herzl Ave; adult/concession 12/10NIS; 10am-4pm Sun-Thu, to 1pm Fri ) Map.
Housed in a building dating from the British Mandate, this small museum provides an overview of the town’s history. Exhibits include locally excavated gold coins from the 8th to 15th century CE, a collection of traditional products of Arab soap manufacture from the beginning of the 20th century and a display on the 1948 Arab–Israeli War in and around Ramla.

White Tower (Danny Mass St; adult/concession 10/9NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri ) Map.
Experts can’t agree whether this 14th-century tower was built as a minaret or a watch tower. One indisputable fact is that the 30m-high structure was built as an addition to the 8th-century White Mosque (Jamaa al-Abiad), of which only traces remain. The site includes three now-dry cisterns and the shrine of Nabi Salih, an ancient prophet mentioned in the Quran.


Great Mosque (Al-Umari Mosque; 08-922 5081; admission 7NIS) Map.
Though it doesn’t look particularly impressive from the outside, this is one of the few Crusader buildings in Israel & the Palestinian Territories to have survived almost completely intact. Erected in the 12th century as a Christian church, it was converted into a mosque in the 13th century and the minaret and mihrab (prayer niche facing Mecca) were added at this time. Visits are by appointment only.

Church of St Nicodemus & St Joseph of Arimathea (08-912 7200; cnr Bialik St & Herzl Ave; 9am-noon Mon-Fri)
Constructed in the 19th century on a site that Christians believe to be the site of biblical Arimathea, the hometown of Joseph, this Franciscan church has a distinctive square bell tower and a painting above the altar that is attributed to Titian (The Deposition from the Cross). To visit, you’ll need to call ahead.


Samir Restaurant (08-922 0195; 7 Kehlat Detroit St; mains 40-90NIS; 8am-7pm Mon-Thu & Sat, to 6pm Fri ) Map.
The clock turns back several centuries in historic Samir, an old Arab family-run restaurant hidden in a dusty backstreet behind the market and set in a refurbished Turkish house. It has an English menu and serves various meat kebabs, dips (try the excellent hummus), falafel and salads.


There are trains to Ramla (map) (13NIS, 25 minutes) from Tel Aviv departing every 20 minutes throughout the day. Buses 450 and 451 depart from Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station every 20 minutes (14.90NIS, 40 minutes).

Um Ali Bread Pudding

This dessert, known as Um Ali Bread Pudding, is named after the mother um Ali. Om Ali was the wife of a ruler from the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt called Ezz El-Din Aybek. Her rival Shagaret El Dorr was the second wife of that ruler. After his death, Shagaret El Dorr arranged for Om Ali to be murdered, and to celebrate, she requested from her cooks to come up with the most delicious dessert they can think of to distribute to throughout Egypt. The successful recipe was a special pastry with milk and honey, that was named Om Ali. A gold coin was added to each plate & distributed in the streets of Egypt. Shagaret El Dorr ruled Egypt for some time in the name of her husband, and later died in a conspiracy too. This dish to date is still known as Om Ali. This dessert is a quick and easy way to win legions of hearts. It’s also a mouth-watering way to use up stale croissants – or a great reason to go and buy some!

Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding

You can eat the ‘original’ Um Ali Bread Pudding in several restaurants in Jerusalem and buy it from street vendors at the markets in Jerusalem. Further, this recipe serves 4 persons and it takes a half hour to cook it and 15 minutes to prepare it.

  • 4 all-butter croissants
  • 2 tbsp raisins or dried mixed berries
  • 2 tbsp flaked/slivered almonds, plus extra to sprinkle
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 250ml/9fl oz/generous 1 cup milk
  • 5 tbsp caster/superfine sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 250ml/9fl oz/generous 1 cup whipping cream
  • 4 tbsp desiccated/shredded coconut
  • 1 small egg, beaten

    Um Ali Bread Pudding
    Um Ali Bread Pudding

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas 4 and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Tear up the croissants into bite-size pieces, place on the baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.
  3. Spread the baked croissant pieces across the base of a baking dish, about 28cm/11¼in square.
  4. Sprinkle over the raisins, almonds, pine nuts and pistachios, making sure they are spread evenly.
  5. Heat the milk in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of the sugar and mix well to dissolve.
  6. Reduce the heat to low, add the cinnamon and orange blossom water and heat through at a gentle simmer for 3–4 minutes.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool so that the egg will not scramble when it’s added to it.
  8. Meanwhile, put the cream and the remaining sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk until the mixture forms soft peaks.
  9. Sprinkle in the coconut and gently fold to incorporate.
  10. Add the egg to the cool milk mixture and whisk to combine.
  11. Ladle the mixture into the baking dish and spread the whipped cream over the top.
  12. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until everything is bubbling and the top is golden, if necessary placing it under a hot grill/broiler for the last 1–2 minutes to brown the top.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Serve warm.
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding
Um Ali Bread Pudding


In many of our tours (especially our Gem tours), our groups meet Bedouins. In almost all of our groups we receive questions about the Bedouins, their men, women and children and of course their way of living. The Bedouin history is long and it has many variations, its culture is rapidly changing and the Bedouins in Israel are a special case. For those reasons, I decided to publish this article about Bedouins in general.

Bedouins are Arabs and desert nomads who hail from and continue to live primarily in the Arabian peninsula and the Middle East and North Africa. They the have traditionally lived in the arid steppe regions along the margins of rain-fed cultivation. They often occupy areas that receive less than 5 centimeters of rain a year, sometimes relying on pastures nourished by morning dew rather than rain to provide water for their animals.

Bedouins regard themselves as true Arabs and the “heirs of glory.” They are found mostly in Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and Egypt, but also in Israel. Bedouins are objects of romance and associated with the idea of freedom for many Arabs. But there life is not easy. Wilfred Thesinger described the Bedouin’s life as “hard and merciless…always hungry and usually thirsty.” And that’s true for the Bedouins of the old times.

Bedouin means “desert people.” The term Bedouin is an anglicization of the Arabic word bedu . It has traditionally been used to differentiate between nomads who made a living by raising livestock (the Bedouins) and those who worked on farms or lived in towns. There is some debate as to whether non-Arab- speaking nomads who live in the Middle East are Bedouins. These groups generally prefer names like the Fedaan tribe or the Rashaayda Arabs to Bedouins.
Source: Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger depicts Bedouin culture


Desert life of a Bedouin
Desert life of a Bedouin

Some desert people are nomads who move from place to place, tending flocks of goats, sheep and camels. Nomads tend to live in places in which the land is too dry to farm crops and travel to find forage for their animals. Nomads tend to live on the fringes of deserts, where they can find enough fodder for their animals. They pasture their flocks where they can find plants. They eat dates and milk, yoghurt, meat and cheese from animals and trade wool, hides for other goods such as tea and other foods they might want. Some work as smugglers. In lowland areas camel breeding has traditionally been the primary economic activity. In the highland areas, raising sheep and goats is the dominant activity.

Although nomads have traditionally made up smaller numbers than peasants their influence on culture has gone far beyond their numbers. It can be argued that Arab culture as well as Turkish culture (the Turks descend from Mongol-like horsemen) is one based in nomadism.

Nomads are far from a homogeneous group. In southeastern Turkey, for example, there are Turkish, Kurdish and Arab nomadic groups. In southwestern Iran, the Khamseh Confederacy includes Persian, Arabic and Turkish tribes. In Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, Berber and Arab tribes intermix.

There are few nomads anymore. By the end of the 20th century they made up less than 1 percent than of the populations of the nations where they lived. Their numbers have declined steadily in the 20th century. In 1900, nomads made up 35 to 40 percent of the population Iraq. By 1970 they made up only 2.8 percent. In 1900 in Saudi Arabia, nomads made up 40 percent of the population. By 1970 they made up only 11 percent. In 1900 in Libya nomads made up 25 percent of the population. By 1970 they made up only 3.5 percent. Their demise was accelerated by the creation of nation states in the 1950s and the oil wealth.

Bedouin History

Bedouin sheikh
Bedouin sheikh

There were already Bedouins for 8000 years! Agricultural and pastoral people have inhabited the southern edge of the arid Syrian steppe since 6000 B.C. By about 850 B.C. a people known as the “A’raab”—ancestors of current Arabs— had established a network of oasis settlements and pastoralist camps. They were one of many stock-breeding societies that lived in the region during that period and were distinguished from their Assyrian neighbors to the north by their Arabic language and the use of domesticated camels for trade and warfare.

Bedouins were once the primary inhabitants of the Holy Land. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were probably Bedouins, and for sure, nomads. Many elements of Bedouin culture have not changed much since Biblical times.

By the first century B.C., Bedouin moved westward into Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula and southwestward along the coast of the Red Sea. In the 7th century Bedouin were among the first converts to Islam. Mohammed was not a Bedouin. He was a towns person from a family of traders. During the Muslim conquests thousands of Muslims—many of them Bedouins—left the Arabian peninsula and settled in newly conquered land nearby and later spread across of much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Bedouin shepherd in the Jordan valley
Bedouin shepherd in the Jordan valley

Bedouins have traditionally raised livestock for sedentary (no nomads, settled) Arabs. They raised camels, horses, and donkeys as beasts of burden, and sheep and goats for food, clothing and manure. They acquired the camel around 1,100 B.C. Bedouins carried out caravan trade with camels between Arabia and the large city states of Syria. Damascus depended on Bedouins to guide its merchant caravans through the desert.

As traders Bedouins helped moved goods between villages and towns by providing raw materials to the towns and manufactured good to the villages. Their relations with settled people was based on reciprocality and was conducted according to carefully defined rules.

After the Mongol conquests, the irrigations systems in the Middle East were seriously damaged. Settled Arabs became more reliant on livestock and forged closer ties with Bedouins, and in some cases joined their tribes.

Bedouins in the Modern World

The number of true nomadic Bedouins is shrinking. Many are now settled, by their own free will or forced. Most Bedouins no longer rely on animals. Centralized authority, borders and the monetary system have undermined their traditional way of life. Roads have decreased their isolation and increased contacts with outsiders. Radios and television have brought new ideas and exposure to the outside world. The oil industry has changed the lives of many Bedouins, who have to deal with oil fields, trucks and other vehicles and machines in areas that were once was only desert. Bedouins still identify themselves as Bedouins if the maintain ties with their nomadic kin and retain the language and other cultural markers that identify them as Bedouins.

A Bedouin settlement in the Negev
A Bedouin settlement in the Negev

In Israel, the authorities want to have their Bedouins settled and that’s often a problem. The view of the authorities are not compatible with those of the Bedouin tribes here in Israel and causes often tensions and conflicts.

Bedouins who have adapted to the modern world retain their tribal loyalties and code of honor. Today, many Bedouins in Oman commute between their desert camps and their jobs in the oil fields in pick-up trucks and SUVs; water is brought to their camps in trucks; and children go to boarding school. While Bedouins continued to move their herds of camels and goats several times a year to new pastures they no longer depend on their animals for survival.

Bedouins in the desert watch television powered by batteries or car batteries. Affluent ones have car phones and satellite television, and goatherds who use ATM machines. One Bedouin in Oman told National Geographic, “Before, life was very difficult. We didn’t have enough food. We ate only animals we caught in the desert. We had no water. We drank only camel’s or goat’s milk. Now we have cars, water, rice—we have everything!”

But with the modern society creeping in the deserts, so also come the negative side of the society, drugs and crime. Many Bedouin tribes and families are torn apart because of the drugs. Also an issue is the education of Bedouin children, which doesn’t enable them to find good work, or work at all!

Bedouin Language and Religion

Like other Arabs, Bedouins speak different dialects of Arabic. A man’s name generally consists of a personal first name, the father’s name and at least the agnatic grandfather’s name (seniority is a patrilineal principle of inheritance where the order of succession to the throne prefers the monarch’s younger brother over the monarch’s own son). Women keep their father’s family name even after marriage.

Most Bedouins are Sunni Muslims and generally observe Muslim holidays and traditional Muslim customs. Arrangements are usually made with religious specialists in sedentary communities to provide religious services and education for Bedouin communities. Sufism (mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God) is strong among some Bedouin communities in the southern Sinai and Libya (and even in Israel). A few Bedouin groups in Jordan have remained Christian since early Islamic times.

Many Bedouins believe in malevolent spirits called jinn and evil ogresses and monsters called ahl al-ard (“people of the earth”), who sometimes target people traveling alone in the desert. In our tours, when the Bedouin is telling stories, it’s often about jinn and evil ogresses, who are hunting for lonely travelers in the night.

Following a custom also practiced by Tibetans, Bedouins mark sacred trees and sites with small strips of prayer cloths.

The “envious eye or evil eye” is taken very seriously by Bedouins. It is believed to target children, who don’t wear amulets for protection. The envious eye is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Bedouins believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Talismans created to protect against the evil eye are also frequently called “evil eyes“.

Bedouins generally follow Muslim practices in regard to funerals and burials. Graves tend to be unmarked. Sometimes an effort is made to bury family members in one place but this often can not be realized within the 24 hour time of Muslim law.

Bedouin Holidays and a Feast for a King

Bedouins in the Lebanon-Syrian area have traditionally gathered in the Bekaa Valley in the spring, arriving with huge flocks of Awassi sheep.

A mansaf is a traditional Muslim feast often held to mark the end morning period of a prominent person. A great tent is opened and spread with carpets. Pure white camels are marched within an ocher circle and two dots are marked for a sacrifice.

At large feasts 250 sheep might be slaughtered. Meat, rice, spices and bread are placed in a large bowl that is so large it sometimes takes two or more men to carry. Guests sit around on carpets and eat communally out of the bowl. At the end of the meal coffee is served from a shiny, brass coffee pot. The host traditionally does not eat until all of his guests are finished.

Describing a feast in honor of Jordan’s King Hussein, National Geographic reporter Luis Marden wrote: “Opposite the tents and facing them, 200 camelmen, resplendent in bright robes and saddle hangings, awaited the arrival of the king, and far down the track stood two bands of horsemen with rifles to the ready. As the royal car drew abreast, horsemen galloped wildly on each side of the King’s car, firing “joy shots” into the air; the camels wheeled behind the horsemen and shouts rose from 4,000 throats.”

“Behind the main line of tents, from the women’s quarters, sounded the ululation of the zaghruut , the peculiar cry with which Arab women greet their leaders or send their men off to war. The chiefs rose t greet His Majesty at the entrance to the big tent, and the instant the King set foot to the ground, men with right armed bared to the elbow plunged curved daggers into jugulars of the white camels.”

“Rival bands of horsemen staged mock fights, charging across the sand and firing volleys of shots with their carbines and pistols. Finally the mansaf was served on great dishes, each bearing a roasted whole sheep nestled in a mound of rice and pine nuts, all drenched in rich white sauce made of yoghurt and butter.

Bedouin Appearance, Customs and Character

Bedouins tend to be small and thin. One reason for this is that food is scarce in the desert. Being thin helps get rid of body heat. Layers of fat keep heat in the body and are more useful in cold weather.

Only Bedouin men tend to camels

Describing a Bedouin, Don Belt, wrote in National Geographic, he was “short, slim, dark—and had face as fierce as a shrike, with a pointed beak and sharp little beard thrust forward like a dagger.” The stereotypical Bedouin male has a masculine, hawk noses, olive skin, and eyes wrinkled by years of squinting in the sun. Some men use a cosmetic made from black antimony to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare.

Bedouin have a love of freedom and not being tied down. Explaining the appeal of the nomadic life, one Bedouin nomad told National Geographic: “You are free. You have a relationship only with your animals. The only relationship more important is with Allah.” Calmness and patience are valued traits in the desert. Bedouin submission to fate has been a cornerstone of the Muslim faith. The Bedouin term “green hearted” describes the act of being lighthearted and unconcerned about mundane matters and preferring adventure and danger.

Inside a Bedouin tent
Inside a Bedouin tent

Bedouins have complex customs of revenge, loyalty and hospitality. They are famous for their hospitality. There are stories of Bedouins slaughtering their best camel for a guest only to find out that guest was willing to buy the camel at any price. National Geographic photographer Reza said, “I have been shooting pictures for 35 years and have traveled in 107 different countries, but nowhere have I enjoyed greater warmth that I experience among the Bedouin. Exhausted after a long day driving…you’d approach a tent, and suddenly someone would appear with a coffee and a beautiful carpet to sit on—yet they’d never ask you who you were or where you’re from. I sometimes wonder if the rest of us have forgotten such values.”

Inside a Bedouin tent
Inside a Bedouin tent

Bedouins are expected boil their last rice and kill their last sheep for feed a stranger. Whenever an animal is slaughtered for a guest it is ritually sacrificed in accordance with Islamic law. It is customary in some Bedouin tribes for a host to smear blood from a slaughtered animal onto of the mounth of his guest in a show of hospitality.

Hospitality is regarded as an honor and a scared duty. Visitors who happen by are usually invited to sit and share a cup of thick, gritty coffee. Guest are ritually absorbed into the household by the host. If a conflict occurs the host is expected to defend the guest as if he were a member of his family. One Bedouin told National Geographic, “Even if my enemy appears at this tent, I am bound to feast him and protect him with my life.”

Bedouin sometimes touch noses as a greeting. Bedouin men sometimes express their friendship to another man by embracing him and giving him a big wet kiss on the lips.”

Bedouin Marriage, Weddings and Dating

Traditional Bedouin weddings
Traditional Bedouin weddings

Traditionally, marriages have been between the closest relatives permitted by Muslim law. Cousin marriages are common, ideally between a man and his father’s brother’s daughter. Traditionally, a father’s brother’s son has first dibs on his female cousin, who has the right of refusal but needs permission of that son to marry anyone else. Although marriages to first cousins are desired, most marriages are between second and third cousins.

Traditional Bedouin wedding procession
Traditional Bedouin wedding procession

Marriages outside the extended family have traditionally been rare, unless a tribal alliances was established; and women were expected to be virgins when they were married. In a marriage it is important for the families to be of the same status. Having lots of children is considered a duty because the more members a tribe has the stronger it is. Polygamy is allowed but only rarely practiced. Generally, only older, wealth men with enough money to support multiple household can afford it.

Bedouin wedding, women's apartment in Bedouin tent
Bedouin wedding, women’s apartment in Bedouin tent

Traditionally, women family members have acted as matchmakers; old brothers worked out the bride price paid by the groom’s family and the details of the marriage contract; the bride and groom had to offer their consent; and escape routes had be worked out to save face if one of either the bride or groom backs out. If the marriage is between cousins the brideprice has traditionally been relatively small.

At weddings, Bedouins prepare a feast of goat meat and rice and other foods. The featured dish is often a cooked camel, stuffed with a whole roasted sheep, which in turn is stuffed with a chicken stuffed with fish filled with eggs.

In a traditional Bedouin wedding a camel is sacrificed and a marital tent is set up to signify that a couple can live with each other. At sunset the bride is escorted by female relatives of the groom. After the groom arrives the relatives depart. No presents are exchanged. The following morning the couple is congratulated. The bride then joins the groom’s family in their tents while the grooms does various chores to earn enough money to pay for the bride price.

Among some tribes boys and girls are encouraged o explore their romantic feeling for one another at an early age, even 12. When other family members are working they can be alone in a tent. When it is cold the can hang out by a campfire. If a couple decides they want to marry the young man tells a friend and the friend asked the girl’s father for permission to marry. If approval is given, a tribal elder negotiated the bride price.

Divorce is fairly common and can be initiated by the man or women according to Muslim traditions. When it occurs the woman generally returns to live her parents

Bedouin Families and Children

Bedouin Women, Jerusalem, ca 1880
Bedouin Women, Jerusalem, ca 1880

The three-generation extended household is regarded as the ideal domestic unit and generally consists of nine to eleven members. Although members may sleep in different tents they generally share their meals together. Husband and wife teams tend to remain in larger groups until they have enough offspring to form a group of their own. Some households are created by the unions of brothers or patrilineal cousins.

Bedouin dancer
Bedouin dancer

Bedouins are not respected unless the get married and have children. There are distinct terms for relatives on the mother’s side and relatives on the father’s side. The smallest household unit is generally named after the senior male resident. An extended family household ceases to exist when the elderly husband or wife dies. When a mother is divorced, widowed or remarried her older sons form their own households. Inheritance is divided in accordance with Muslim law. The division of livestock is sometimes complicated by the fact that women are not allowed to own larger animals.

Bedouin children of the tribe
Bedouin children of the tribe

Some Bedouins families are quite large. “We have many children,” a Bedouin told journalist Harvey Ardent, “I myself have 17 by my two wives. What else can you do in the desert?”

Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert
Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert

Children and infants are raised by the extended family. Siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins often are as much engaged in rearing children as the parents. Elaborate ceremonies are held for the naming of newborn children. Children are purified and ritually initiated into the family through rites of seclusion and purification performed by the mother between seven and 40 days after the birth. At age 6 or 7 children are held responsible for taking care of simple household duties and soon after that they are regarded as full working members of the group. Adolescence generally does not get much attention. From late childhood onward Bedouins are treated as working members of the group.

Bedouin Men and Women

Bedouin dancers
Bedouin dancers

Men in Bedouin societies are admired if they have a gentle way with camels and an eye for pretty women. Bedouin men have traditionally been taught to secretive about their plans and movements especially where their wives are concerned,

Traditional division of labor has been largely defined by which animals are raised, with men typically caring for the large animals, particularly camels, and women being responsible for the smaller animals such as goats and sheep. Women are often prohibited from having close contact with camels and other large animals. They and older girls spend much of their time herding, feeding and milking When only sheep and goats are kept, men tend to do the herding and women do the feeding and milking.

Bedouin husband and wife from tribal intermarriage
Bedouin husband and wife from tribal intermarriage

Bedouin women manage the household and tent and general handle market chores and the buying and selling of goats while only men are allowed to buy and sell camels. Women often spend their days doing chores while the mean relax and drink coffee. Bedouin girls take care of the animals while their brothers go to school.

A woman’s value used to be equated with her worth in camels. A beautiful fair-skinned wife was said to be worth around 50 camels. Girls are sometimes circumcised. Many Bedouin are veiled but in many respects they enjoy more freedoms than urban Arab women.

Bedouin women have traditionally ground wheat into flour on a circular stone called a quern. They have traditionally worked wool into yarn on hand spindles with big pill of coarse wool by their side. Among the items they make are hand-knit camel-udder covers to prevent baby camels from nursing whenever they feel like it.

Bedouin Society

Bedouins in 1893
Bedouins in 1893

As is true with all Arabs, Bedouins live in patrilineal societies. Most are members of large patrilineal descent groups, which are linked by agnation to larger lineage groups, tribes and even confederations of tribes. “Bedouins frequently name more than five generations of patrilineal ancestors and conceptualize relations among descent groups in terms of a segmentary genealogical model, with each group nested in a larger patrilineal group. Within this structure is a framework for forging marriage alliances, and settling disputes and administering justice.

Bedouin Women, Jerusalem, ca 1880
Bedouin Women, Jerusalem, ca 1880

Bedouins are fiercely loyal to clan and tribe and their society is organized around a series of real and fictional kin groups. The smallest household units are called bayt (plural buyuut). They in turn are organized into groups called fakhadhs , which in turn are united into tribes. Large tribes are sometimes divided into subtribes. The leaders of buyuut and fakhadhs are often organized into a Council of Elders, often directed by tribal leader or sheik.

Bedouin sheikh, 1934
Bedouin sheikh, 1934

Bedouins have traditionally been organized into “nations,” or tribal groups of families united by common ancestor and shared territorial claims. These nations are led by leaders selected according to a universal selection process and operating in an environment that was constantly changing ecologically and politically. Only in the 20th century has their system been undermined by more powerful authoritarianism namely national governments.

Bedouin sheikh
Bedouin sheikh

Social control is exercised through honor and shame which not only defines an individual but also defines his family and even clan. Honor is inherited and has to asserted from time to time to remain relevant. The honor of a man is defined by his individual behavior and those of his male kin. Female honor is something that male relatives are responsible for upholding. It is often defined in terms of chastity and is regarded as something that can not be regained after it has been lost. It is considered a serious, shameful matter if female honor is taken or somehow compromised. Serious breaches of honor can result in execution of expulsion from the tribe.

Most Bedouins belong to small tribes that traditionally lived together in tent camps in the desert. The Al Sawaada tribe, a typical tribe, had 400 members. The largest tribes have 3,000 tents and 75,000 camels. Large tribes are hardly ever together. There simply is not food in a given place in the desert to support them all. Groups that move through the desert usually have 20 to 70 members.

Each Bedouin tribe member wears slightly clothes to indicate locality, social position and marital status, with these things usually being indicated by embroidery on their cloak, headdresses, jewelry and hairstyle worn on special occasions.

Different tribes have different reputations. The Beni Skar Bedouins have a reputation for being particularly fierce. The Duru, the Harasi, the Yal Wahiba are tough Bedouin tribes that live in southern Oman. Residing near their gravel flats of the Empty Quarter, they survive by finding meager feed for their camels and wander from one bitter water hole t another.

Entire tribes are held responsible for a murder or another crime committed by one member of the tribe. In the case of a murder a tribe must wander endlessly to keep one step ahead of the their pursuer until blood money can be raised.

A sheik is the head of a tribe. He is often the wealthiest member of the tribe and may posses more than a thousand camels. Among the important criteria in choosing a leader are age, religious piety, personal qualities, generosity and hospitality.

Sheik generally wield their authority through a chain of command through subtribes, fakhadhs, and buyuut. They have traditionally been in charge of distributing grazing rights and settling disputes. A sheik often has no muscle to back him up and wields power through moral authority and judging the desires of tribe members.

Bedouin Conflicts, Raids and Revenge Killings

Bedouin camel raceBedouins have traditionally gone out on ghazwas (“raids”) to settle scores and rustle livestock. An early Arabic poem goes: “With the sword I will wash my shame away,” Let God’s doom bring on me what it may!” In the old days, tribal conflicts often revolved around the rights to water and pastures. Brutal battles and the loss of many lives was often the result of such conflicts. Modern laws and law enforcement officers have largely been able exert control over Bedouins and pacify them.

Bedouins have nasty blood feuds that sometimes end in murder. Describing a revenge killing in southern Arabia in 1946, Wilfred Thesiger wrote: “Bin Mautlauq spoke of the raid in which young Sahail was killed. He and fourteen companions had surprised a small herd of Saar camels. The herdsmen had fired two shots at them before escaping, on the fastest of his camels, and one of these shots hit Sihail in the chest. Bakhit held his dying son in his arms as they rode across the plain with the seven captured camels. It was late in the morning when Sahail was wounded, and he lived till nearly sunset, begging for water which they had no t got.” ” [Source: Eyewitness to History , edited by John Carey, Avon, 1987]

“They rode all night to a small Saar encampment under a tree in a shallow valley. A woman was churning butter in a skin, and a boy and girl were milking the goats. Some small children sat under a tree. The boy saw them first and tried to escape but they corned him against a low cliff. He was about fourteen years old, a little younger than Sahail, and unarmed. When they surrounded him he put his thumbs in his mouth as a sign of surrender, and asked for mercy. No one answered him.”

Bakhit slipped own off his camel, drew his dagger, and drove it into the boy’s ribs. The boy collapsed at his feet, moaning, ‘Oh, my father! Oh, my father!’ and Bakhit stood over him till he died. He then climbed back into his saddle, his grief a little soothed by the murder…The small, long-haired figure, in white loincloth, crumpled on the ground, the spreading pool of blood, the avid clustering flies, the frantic wailing of the dark-clad women, the terrified children, the shrill incessant screaming of a small baby.”

Bedouin Food

Traditional Bedouin dinner on a plate for families
Traditional Bedouin dinner on a plate for families

Typical Bedouin food includes bread, rice dates, seasoned rice, yoghurt and milk and meat from their animals. Bedouins like to eat goat-and-rice dishes cooked over an open fire. A typical Bedouin breakfast consists of yoghurt, bread and coffee. Nomads have traditionally sold their animals and used the money to buy bags of wheat, rice, barely, salt, coffee and tea, which are carried by their animals.

Bedouin women making Bedouin bread
Bedouin women making Bedouin bread

Bedouin bread is made by women who flatten balls of dough into flat sheets and places them in a rounded stove for baking. Bread can also be baked in the sand or cooked over a campfire in a metal dome.

Dates are the staple of the Bedouin diet. They are harvested from palm trees and dried out in the sun and stored for the wintertime when they supply food for a family and sometimes for camels, goats and sheep. Bedouin can go for months, subsisting on nothing but dates, animal milk and water. Sometimes when swarms of locusts arrive they are collected, roasted and eaten. Some are dried and crushed into powder and stored. Animals are usually only slaughtered for feasts and celebrations.”

Beduin food-dishes
Beduin food-dishes

Bedouins have traditionally eaten rice and meat with their fingers while sitting on the ground or floor. When meat is eaten often a large chunk is passed around and everyone cuts of a piece with their dagger. Cooking has traditionally been done outside on camel dung campfires by women. The fire is made in a pit with three stones used as a support for the cooking pot.

Bedouin food with Bedouin family
Bedouin food with Bedouin family

Describing a Bedouin feast, Thomas Ambercrombie wrote in National Geographic, “Hardly a word was spoken…We ate busily, thrusting our right hands into the pilaf, squeezing the rice into bite size lumps and popping then into our mouths. The choicer tidbits—lungs, kidneys, an brain—the sheik tore out and laid before his guests. A young boy brought a dish of dates and bowls of fresh camel milk.” Bedouins often signal that a feast is over by licking their fingers and then leave to wash and return for fruit or desert.

Bedouin Drink and Hashish

Bedouin coffee
Bedouin coffee

Bedouins like to drink thick, gritty coffee traditionally made from green beans crushed in a brass mortar and spiced with cardamom, and sometimes ginger root. Out in the desert the coffee is brewed with water boiled over a brush wood fire and poured from a long-beaked brass pot into porcelain thimble-size cups or small cups that look like egg cups.

Coffee breaks are relished. They are the primary social activities. They are usually exclusively male affairs and sometimes last all day. If a stranger is spotted on the horizon a pot of coffee is brewed to offer with dates as hospitality when they arrive. A guest customarily accepts three servings. Bedouins signal they have had enough to drink by twisting the cup back and forth with their wrist. Coffee has traditionally been one of the most popular backsheesh gifts.

Bedouin kahwa is a strong aromatic coffee made with cardamon powder, saffron and rosewater. The coffee beans are roasted over a camel dung fire then ground. After a pinch of cardamon is added the coffee is brewed in a long neck brass pot. Some Bedouin slike Arabic coffee spiced with ginger and filtered with a layer of dried grass.

Bedouin also drink tea. Describing a Bedouin tea ceremony Abercrombie wrote: “Ahmad cracked a tall cone of hard sugar and popped a fist-size chunk into the hot tea along with handfuls of mint leaves, He poured himself a sip, sampling it with all the concern of a french wine taster. Another chink of sugar and it was perfect. He filled our glasses with the brew thick and sweet as syrup. ‘ Bismillah ,” the sheik intoned before we drank. “In Allah’s name.”

Bedouins often consume frothy camel milk communally from an aluminum basin. Explaining the attraction of the warm and sweet camel milk straight from the animal, one Omani Bedouin told National Geographic, “This is fresh as it gets. Makes everything digest. We drink it all the time.”

Some Bedouins smoke hashish. Mickey Hart, the drummer in the Grateful Dead, who spent some time with Bedouins in the Sinai, said he had to smoke the “heroic” amounts of hashish to get in good enough graces with his host to record some of their music.

Bedouin Beauty and Hygiene

Bedouin wedding ceremony, the Bride

Men, women, children and infants in Bedouin tribes decorate their eyes with kohl as the ancient Egyptians did. Some Bedouin women have geometric facial tattoos and henna-stained patterns on their calloused hands. Young Bedouin girls begin tying coins in their hair before their front teeth have grown in.

With water in short supply, Bedouins don’t take many baths. Before prayers they often wash with sand rather than scarce water. Bedouins wash their hair with powdered leaves of the sidr tree, a thorny fruit tree also know as Christ’s thorn because it believed to have been used to make Christ’s crown of thorns. The leaves are dried and pounded and mixed with water to make a lather.

Bedouin Clothes

Bedouin woman
Bedouin woman

Sun and sand protection is the primary objective with Bedouin clothes. Bedouin garments can be wrap around the wearer to keep the sand and sun out. Loose clothing tends to shield the skin from sun and provide enough open space that heat absorbed by the cloth is not directly transferred to the skin.

Each Bedouin tribe member wears slightly clothes to indicate locality, social position and marital status, with these things usually being indicated by embroidery on their cloak, headdresses, jewelry and hairstyle worn on special occasions. Each tribe has is own designs that are worn on their clothes, Tents and camels bags also carry these designs so that caravans can be identified from a distance.

Only Bedouin men tend to camels
Only Bedouin men tend to camels

A typical Bedouin man wear a white cotton foot-length, long-sleeve shirt, an aba (a long khaki ankle-length sleeveless robe), and red tasseled sash. Sometimes they wear a dagger in their belt. At night the aba is used a blanket. In many places Bedouin men wear a thobe (a long white gown). Sometimes they wear a long sleeve coat called a gumbaz or kibber over the thobe.

Bedouin men tend to wear camel hide sandals, ankle boots or Western-style shoes. Some go barefoot in the hot sand. To make standing in the hot sand bearable sometimes they stand on one and then alternate back and forth with the other foot. If they step on a thorn they use another thorn to dig it out.

On their head Bedouin men wear a Yasser-Arafat-style keffiyeh , which can be draped under the chin, lifted across the face for protection against sandstorms, or crossed under the chin and fixed on top of the head for warmth. The cloth headdress held in place by a thick wool cord of made of black goat hair. When it is cold he may wear a round wool cap under the a keffiyeh .

Bedouin Fashion Clothing and Accessories
Bedouin Fashion Clothing and Accessories

Women wear dark clothes and a kerchief held in place with a band of folded cloth. Red is usually worn by married women while blue is worn by unmarried women. Loose cloaks, or thobe , are worn for special events. These often feature embroidery around the neckline, sleeves and hems. Veils are often connected to a turban and are decorated with silver coins. Everyday clothes are much plainer. Bedouin women usually wear sandals.

Some Bedouin women wear a burqua , a mask-like veil that reveals only the eyes and neck and has a narrow ridge that runs down the middle of the face and looks like something an ax-murderer would wear. For a woman wearing such a garment only immediate relatives are allowed to see her face. Bedouin women in Saudi Arabia wear a black tent-like cloak over their clothes and a mask that covers the entire faces except for small eyes slits. In the desert most Bedouin women don’t wear veils because they are is simply too hot. They don them when strangers appear.

Bedouin Literature, Entertainment and Culture

Bedouin Music
Bedouin Music

At night Bedouin like lay a carpet o the sand and set up and campfire and drink tea and camel milk late into the night. When travelers are around they are invited to share a coffee. Travelers show they have had enough coffee by shaking their cups.

Bedouin music features a prominent clarinet, distinctive Bedouin rhythms and chanting. Around a campfire Bedouins may chant songs well into the night. Al-Huda is caravan chants were devised to help camels take their minds off their heavy loads. According to one story the songs were so effective that the camels would arrive a the destinations lively and full of strength but when the singing and drumming stopped the dropped dead from fatigue.

Bedouin Music
Bedouin Music

Bedouin instruments include drums, single string instruments and recorder-like wind instrument. A Bedouin instrument which dates Biblical times is the kinnor .”

Sheep wool and goat hair is woven into tents, carpets and blankets by women. Important artistic expressions of design, color and patterns is incorporated into these handicrafts.

Bedouins produce poetry and value oral skills among both men and women. Bedouin poems include advice to children, messages to lovers and enemies, self-deprecating dances, accounts of battles, and accounts of historical events. These poems have traditionally been recited around campfires at night along with folk tales and stories from Koran that sometimes give Mohammed supernatural powers,

Bedouin poems are often unique to the tribe, with tribes only a few kilometers away not knowing the verses of their neighbors. Since Bedouins were illiterate until relatively recently, their poetry, literature, history and traditions were passed on orally from one generation to the next.

Book: Bedouin Poetry of the Sinai and the Negev by Clinton Bailey (Clarendon Press, Oxford University)

Bedouin Education and Health

Bedouin Education
Bedouin Education

Many Bedouins can not read or write and have never spent a day in a school.

Bedouins that are 35 to 40 often look 50 or 60, a result of a hard life and exposure to the sun and dry air. Illness is attributed to imbalances of elements, the presence of evil spirits and germs.

Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert
Bedouin children walk to school in the Negev desert

A doctor who worked with Bedouins told National Geographic, “The most common problem is respiratory infection, because they live outside without proper housing in the winter. And their diet is mostly milk, meat, rice, some bread, and dates—no fresh fruit or vegetables.”

Bedouin class with the Palestinians
Bedouin class with the Palestinians

Treatments include modern medicine, herbal remedies, branding and the wearing of amulets, often with Koranic scriptures inside. Bedouins with heart trouble are sometimes treated with cigarette burns to the chests, a common folk remedy. Some Bedouins receive medical care from doctors that visit remote regions by plane. ☼

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, Google Images

Text Sources: History of Arab People by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library, 2000); National Geographic articles about the Middle East; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays