Political issues are never the focus of LDS Charities. But, often, poverty and hardship are the results of political decisions. Our recent visit to a local Bedouin camp reminded us of this, especially for this cultures in transition.
Last Monday we visited an agency in Bethany that is helping Bedouin ladies become self-reliant. Ladies in the camp embroider clothing and items which are then sold in local shops.
The BYU Jerusalem Center and the Church are helping to fund this worthwhile project and part of our assignment is to help coordinate the support from the church.
Sawson operates a small gift shop near the tomb where Lazarus was raised from the dead. The items in her store are beautiful and all very labor intensive where even some of the smaller items take up to two weeks to embroider.
We drove with Sawson to one of the Bedouin camps where she hires ladies to work. The camp is called Khan-al Ahmar and is located on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, not far from the site of the Good Samaritan.
The BYU Jerusalem students assemble school kits and some of the kits are given to the children attending school in this camp. The children were proud to show us their books and the progress they are making.
The school rooms are made from tires that have been stacked up and then covered with plaster and painted.
Abu Khama is the spokesman for the camp and has been very involved in the effort to preserve their camp.
He asked if we wanted to visit his house and we felt very honored. His wife was making bread on an open fire and she offered us some as we left their home.
Their daughter also followed us and give me a cloth doll that she had made. I offered to pay her, but she said it was a gift.
In past years, the United Nations and others have helped improve the living conditions of the camp by building a simple health clinic. However, recently, the Israeli government has discouraged any improvements.
Other agencies have tried to help improve the camp by donating play grounds and other equipment. But the government wants to remove the camp to make room for a housing project.
When equipment is given to improve the camp, such as a recently donated playground, the government removes it with their bull dozers.
The families in the camp are determined to stay as you can see from the sign they painted on the cement barrier next to the freeway:
We Will Never Leave.
Behind the picture of Abu Khama, spokesman for the camp, is a lean-to where all of the men in the camp meet each night after supper to talk. Abu calls it the Men’s Congress. There is another lean-to structure on the other end of camp for the women, called, of the Women’s Congress.
Because of the 1967 war, many Bedouins were forced to leave the Negev desert in the south. Israel won the war and took possession of the area as part of Israel. Bedouins and Palestinians left the area and moved north to settle around Jerusalem.
After the 1973 war, Israel began to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including several settlements that are close to Khan al-Ahmar, the Bedouin camp we visited. In September 2018, the decision was made by the government to move the people in this camp to permanent housing and remove the camp.
In October of 2018, people in the camp and others protested and the decision to remove the camp was put on hold by Prime Minister Netanyahu.