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The Bedouin village of Hura, where Muhammad al-Nabari has been the mayor since 2005. Photo by Romayan, courtesy Creative Commons

Mayor Muhammad al-Nabari of Hura grew up in this predominantly Bedouin town, but in his teens came to the conclusion that there was no future for him in the Negev. He moved north to attend high school, and then—to his family’s immense pride—went on to attend Hebrew University and later Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. After graduation, he took a job at a prominent pharmaceutical company—but, he says, “I never cut myself off from my identity as a Bedouin.” Al-Nabari was living near Hura, and running an advocacy group for higher education among the Bedouins. In 2005 he ran for mayor of Hura—but didn’t take the idea seriously; in fact, he didn’t even bother leaving his job when he began his campaign. “I never believed I would get elected!” he admits. He was wrong.

I never cut myself off from my identity as a Bedouin.”
— Muhammad Al-Nabari, Mayor of Hura

After more than a decade under al-Nabari’s leadership, Hura—though still one of Israel’s poorest communities—has become a model of how local government can be run. With financial assistance from sources including the Jewish National Fund and other Jewish organizations in the United States and United Kingdom, Hura now boasts a community center, a public library, and the highly successful Ahad High School for Science, which accepts gifted Bedouin students from all over the Negev. Education is central to progress and hope for Hura—as for the entire nation—as al-Nabari well knows. “I have told my principals to be responsible for students even after they graduate,” he says. “We check to see how many go on to college and careers.”

Hura has a way to go: there is still poverty and much unemployment to contend with here, and the Bedouins’ relations with the Israeli government are uneasy at best. But al-Nabari believes that it is a waste of time and energy to dwell on who’s to blame or what is not working. He says: “If you focus on the discourse [of] ‘They screwed me over; they discriminated against me’—then you’ll stay with the problems and have no solutions. . . . It’s very easy to put the blame on others, but if we do our jobs and then fight for what we need from the government, gradually the situation will improve.”


Muhammad al-Nabari, the Forward-Thinking Mayor of Hura

A Bedouin family in a still from the Sustainability Laboratory's short film Project Wadi Attir.  Photo courtesy Project Wadi Attir

Project Wadi Attir is located in the northern Negev near the Bedouin town of Hura. It was founded by Michael Ben-Eli, who heads a global initiative called the Sustainability Laboratory. The project’s aim is to find a way to combine Bedouin culture and experience with progressive notions of sustainability and “green” technologies—looking at renewable-energy production, recycling, land stewardship, and much more.

Project Wadi Attir serves as a model for Jewish-Bedouin collaboration. “It is good for the people. It makes them feel good as citizens. It makes them proud to be part of Israel.
— Muhammad al-Nabari, Mayor of Hura

The concept for the project was born in 2007 when Ben-Eli and his colleague Josh Arnow paid a visit to Ben-Gurion University and the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research—centers outfitted with astonishing technologies and facilities, where much of Israel’s world-class research into desert living is being conducted. But during that visit, Ben-Eli and Arnow also saw the harsh living conditions of the growing Bedouin community, trying to make its way in a land of increasing Westernization and urban sprawl. “It did not seem right,” Ben-Eli has observed, “that full citizens in a country like Israel would live in desperate circumstances, when there were such incredible technologies being developed nearby.”

Ben-Eli met with Muhammad al-Nabari, the forward-thinking mayor of Hura, and they teamed up to bring Project Wadi Attir to light. A joint effort between Ben-Eli’s Sustainability Laboratory and the Hura Municipal Council, the project is decidedly holistic in its approach: dealing with social, economic, environmental, as well as tech considerations. Collaborators include Bedouin community members, university scientists and researchers, local nonprofit organizations, a nearby kibbutz, government agencies, and private-sector companies. The hope is that this new vision of environmentally sound development—beneficial to all parties—may impact the entire Middle East region as well as other parts of the world.

At the Project Wadi Attir farm, Bedouins tend goats and sheep organically for the production of dairy products. They grow medicinal plants and herbs (based on traditional Bedouin healing methods), and have developed a line of health products for sale on the mainstream market. Indigenous vegetables were once an important part of the Bedouin diet, but many were nearly eradicated; these have been reintroduced and are cultivated organically, and a seed bank has been established for these precious plants. Hundreds of olive trees have been planted by local Bedouin high-school students, into soil enhanced and irrigated with the help of scientists from the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research.

Women are working and taking part in the project’s planning—this is a real breakthrough among the Bedouins.  Today Project Wadi Attir—the first-ever Bedouin agricultural cooperative in Israel—serves as a hub for eco-tourism, and as a model for Jewish-Bedouin collaboration. As Mayor al-Nabari puts it: “It is good for the people. It makes them feel good as citizens. It makes them proud to be part of Israel.”

Project Wadi Attir >

Learn more about New Israeli tech, old Bedouin ways at Wadi Attir at

Project Wadi Attir: Progress for a Bedouin Community

Young Bedouin Shepherd photo by Ed Brambley, courtesy Creative Commons.

The Bedouins of Israel are traditionally pastoral, nomadic, desert-dwelling Muslim Arabs; they make up about 2 percent of the Israeli population. While there are small Bedouin communities in the Galilee and the center of the country, the vast majority of Bedouins live in the Negev Desert.

Bedouins make up about 2 percent of the Israeli population

Their nomadic lifestyle is rapidly giving way to settled living, an inevitable process of modernization that is complicated by intractable issues of land rights, which successive Israeli governments have yet to resolve. While the Negev Bedouins are Israel’s most socioeconomically disadvantaged community, the number of Bedouin academics, businessmen, and activities is growing remarkably, with Bedouin women featured at the forefront of this important societal development. 

The Bedouins of the Negev: A Population Transforming