Camel racing is still a very popular sport in many parts of the Middle East, despite its reputation involved in child abuse and other non-green activities. Green Prophet covered this subject in February, noting that rich people in countries like Abu Dhabi, often pay thousands of dollars for racing camels and that small children are taught to race them at an early age. Now this sport may soon be reality in Israel as well; according to an Los Angeles Times article about a couple of Israeli filmmakers, Ezry Keydar and Nadav Ben Israel who are making a documentary movie about Bedouins who own Israel’s remaining camel herds. These two are entertaining the idea of racing these “ships of the desert” at an uncompleted airstrip outside the Negev city of Mitzpeh Ramon.Most of the article deals with the plight of Israel’s camel population, now down to about 3,500 animals; as well as the Bedouins who still keep these animals and are now finding it harder to do so due to lack of natural grasslands in Israel arid regions and the high price of purchasing fodder.
The Bedouins themselves are a neglected element of Israeli society with the a severe lack of running water, sewage systems and other things that other segments of Israel’s population take for granted.
Since the Bedouin are the keepers of a camel herd population that once numbered into the tens of thousands, Keydar and Ben Israel will most likely enlist Bedouins to provide not only the racing stock but the riders or jockeys as well; which probably has resulted in the significance of the term “camel jockey” in reference to the romance place around the indigenous desert populations who in the past relied on these animals as beasts of burden, meat and dairy products, and even for the clothing they wear and tents they used (and sometimes still do) live in.
Referring back to our earlier article, in which wealthy people in UAE states pay large sums of money for pedigree breeding and racing camels, it’s not likely that the ones found in Israel’s Negev desert regions are of the same quality as those that wealthy camel fanciers in Abu Dhabi pay a small fortune for. The one comparison that might be made would be regarding who will ride these “splendid beasts” as Lawrence of Arabia once noted them to be.
Nowadays oil trading rich people in the Middle East pay much for luxury cars, like gold plated Mercedes Benzes than they do for camels. And even in places like Abu Dhabi, the noble Dromedary racing camel may one day be only a nostalgic memory.
Over in Israel it’s debatable if Israel’s Bedouin population will do that much to restore their national pride as their nomadic way of life is quickly drifting into the sands of history, being replaced with more town life in large settlements like Rahat in the Northern Negev who have also adopted many of the bad traits of living in towns such as piling up trash or disposing it in wadis (dry creek beds), as well as leaving their former occupations as herdsmen and farmers for more lucrative ones like smuggling drugs and other illegal commodities into Israel.
As for camel racing, it may already be too late for this sport to catch on in modern Israel, but here’s what the Israeli filmmakers say:
Our choice of topic is not accidental. We see these people as the last of the Mohicans — they represent a vanishing culture.
Sadly, Israel is working systematically to push this culture and its symbols into extinction. It won’t recognize camels as an agricultural sector and won’t allocate grazing lands. Commercial feed is expensive, and many Bedouins are forced to give up camels. Israel is successfully eliminating a symbol of culture. And when you kill a symbol, the culture dies with it.
We see great value in preserving this culture — not in a museum, but as a way of life. We want to see Bedouins continuing to live as people of the desert, and this is increasingly less possible. We do not want them to vanish from our landscape.
Read more about Bedouins and Camels:
Image via Boston Public Library