Social Issues

Women of Negev desert fight for equality, emancipation

Negev, Israel (EFE).- Women in Negev, a patriarchal community in a vast desert region in southern Israel, are treated as a minority.

Bedouin Amal Elsana and Sephardic Shula Knafo know too well what it feels like to be ignored and silenced, but this has not stopped them from fighting for women’s justice and equality.

Growing up in the arid desert of Negev, a harsh habitat and marginalized region since the birth of the Jewish state, molded Amal and Shula into strong, resilient women.

“Since I was a child I understood what it meant to be a second-class citizen in Israel, being treated differently from the Jewish population,” Amal, the community leader of Lakiya, a Bedouin village of 15,000 people, tells Efe.

“And what it meant to be a woman in a patriarchal system, considered different from men within my own society,” she adds.


At just five years old, Amal rebelled against society and became a shepherdess.

Today, she is the leader of her community and founder of ‘Embroidery of the Desert’, an organization that fights for women’s rights, including equal access to education and the labor market.

“We started with seven women and now there are 150 of us,” she says.

Many women have been abandoned by their husbands for second wives or have no citizenship status since the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Bedouins account for 30% of the Negev region but only occupy 3% of the territory.

“Out of the 112 communities recognized by Israel in the 1950s, only 11 were for us, the real indigenous people of this land, which is not recognized as ours, so we suffered demolitions, confiscations and displacement,” Amal says.

Amal’s daughter Adan Alhjooj, 19, has followed her mother’s footsteps.

“I am fighting for our land and I am fighting for our rights but because I am a woman I should be ashamed and be silent and it is sad I still had to go through these things even though the generation of my mother fought against them,” she tells Efe.

Adan says that while many things have changed thanks to her mother’s work, “as women not only are oppressed by the (Israeli) occupation but then we are oppressed by our own com,unity simky because we are women”


Fifty kilometers south of Lakiya is Yeruham, a town founded in the 1950s to welcome Jewish communities migrating to Israel.

Most of the migrants were Sephardic Jews from North Africa, like Shula Knafo, who arrived in 1962 at the age of six with her family from Casablanca.

While Shula and Amal come from very different backgrounds, the patriarchy which they grew up and endure is very similar.

“My husband was as primitive as my father,” Shula, who married at 18 to escape from her strict father, tells Efe.

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