About 160,000 Bedouin live in the Negev desert. Half of the population has settled in towns that were built especially for them, while the other half lives in villages that the government does not recognize. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, Bedouin society has been adapting to the Israeli society around it. As a result, Bedouin heritage and culture are gradually disappearing.
The Negev Bedouin belong to three main tribes: the Azazmeh, Tarabin, and Tiaha. The Azazmeh and Tarabin Bedouin consider themselves descendants of the Quraish tribe, to which Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, belonged. Today the Negev Bedouin are split into dozens of tribes and factions.
Originating in Saudi Arabia, these nomadic tribes migrated to the Sinai desert and then on to the Negev in a process that ended about 250 years ago. They came in search of green pastures and new sources of income, and some families were possibly also trying to escape blood feuds. The Tiaha settled the northern Negev, pushing the Azazmeh south of the Beersheba region.
The Bedouin are proud of their origins and heritage. Although there is no communication between the Negev tribes and the mother tribes in Saudi Arabia, the Negev Bedouin perpetuate the memories of their forefathers and make periodic pilgrimages to legendary grave sites in Jordan and the Sinai desert.
A pastoral and idyllic landscape consisting of camel caravans, goat-hair tents, a well, and a flock of sheep is the Bedouin image that appears in drawings of nineteenth-century researchers and explorers, in photographs from the era of the British mandate, and in Hollywood movies. Today, as in the past, the Bedouin are perceived as proud desert individuals, people of nature and the land, and exceptionally hospitable hosts. Their traditional customs can still be seen and experienced in parts of the Negev.