My Friend is a Palestinian Bedouin: XI The Bedouins
In the Jahalin tribe in the Jerusalem area there are circa 3.000 Bedouins with voting rights; these are the men from the age of 18. Women are not allowed to participate in voting, nor can they be elected. The members of each of the descent groups in the Jahalin tribe elect a representative for the council of families. The two descent groups that are least strong (as based on their property, wealth, level of education, size and other aspects of status) do not have their own representative, whereas the two strongest descent groups have two representatives each. The council then chooses among itself the next sheikh. The task of the council members is to support the sheikh and to solve issues that occur within their own family. The sheikh receives a modest salary from the Palestinian Authority, which is barely enough to cover the basic costs of living.
In the first Jahalin council elections, in 2008, about 1.200 men participated, who elected a council of 11. The sheikh and the council were supposed to stay in office for two years, but the Palestinian Authorities have not held elections since. The council nominated a woman, to consult on women-related affairs; a matter perceived as a progressive step in the community. For the sake of family honor, this woman cannot participate in the council’s gatherings. Bashar is one of the two representatives of the strongest descent groups, Abu Sahra, which is one of the nine descent groups in the Slamat clan. This had put him in a good position to be elected sheikh. He also is one of the few representatives on the council who has an academic degree, speaks both Hebrew and some English, besides Arabic, and who is acquainted with the world of computers. The “vice-sheikh” is the other Abu Sahra representative. It needs to be noted that this system may be considered political, but that the Jahalin Bedouins affiliate ideologically neither with a certain nation, nor with a particular political party. They may support particular governments, parties or political moves for pragmatic reasons, which is principally in order to receive backing for their nomadic lifestyle. One of the tasks of the sheikh is to conduct the “sulha” (Bashar Abu Sahra, personal communication, March 14, 2009).