A Bedouin Docudrama – 50 minutes

Aysha, a Bedouin girl of 17 from a rural tent encampment, is about to be married to her cousin Mahmoud – a match planned long ago by their fathers, in accordance with ancient tradition. 

Mahmoud’s sister, Jamila, who also married within the clan,  has a son with severe genetic disorder. She tells Aysha to take blood tests and determine whether she carries the same gene.

Medical tests show that both Mahmoud and Aysha carry the gene. The doctors explain the risks involved in endogamous marriages. The families take the news very badly. Mahmoud becomes angry and hostile towards Aysha, as though it were all her fault. The wedding is called off and Aysha sinks into an introverted depression, wracked by feelings of guilt. She remains in her room for days and weeks on end, barely eating or sleeping.

A Muslim religious leader tells Aysha’s father that endogamous marriages are a Bedouin tradition but have no foundation in religious law. In fact, Muhammad declared that marriages with outsiders are preferable.

One day, Ismail, a friend of Aysha’s older brother Ibrahim, came to visit the family. He had heard the entire story and expresses his compassion for Aysha to Ibrahim. What Ismail does not reveal is that he had always harbored a secret affection for her, but never believed he had a chance. After all, she was from a noble Bedouin clan and he was the son of a family of lower esteem. Besides, wasn’t she betrothed to Mahmoud?

Stirred by Ismail’s attentions, Aysha gradually comes out of her shell, finding herself increasingly attracted to this kindly and worldly-wise young man. Eventually Ismail asks Aysha’s father for her hand.

Aysha’s father, incensed, refuses outright, calling Ismail low-born and cursing the day he every allowed his daughter to stray from his watchful eye. He threatens to marry Aysha off as a second wife to an old rich man. Aysha says she’d rather die.

Jamila hears of the couple’s plight and encourages Aysha to stick to her guns and not surrender to family pressure.

Ismail’s father asks the local Muslim preacher to resolve the conflict. He promises to try, claiming that “love cannot be conquered. We must follow the feelings of our children’s hearts. Tradition is important, but progress must be taken into account as well. A wedding brings hearts closer. We’ve had enough of hatred and strife.” Thanks to the sheikh’s persuasion and intercession, the two families are reconciled and a joyous wedding takes place.

 The film Aysha seeks to represent an authentic and even-handed reflection of prevailing attitudes towards marriage, family and human relations among the Bedouins. Through the personal story of Aysha, an adolescent girl about to graduate high school, the film expresses an entire range of views, from staunchly traditional to thoroughly liberal, concerning such issues as endogamy, family planning, marriageable age, arranged marriages vs. love matches, etc.   

Bedouin couples tend to marry at a young age, when either or both partners are not sufficiently mature, often causing them to drop out of school (especially the wives). The Bedouins realize that the younger the prospective pair, the easier it is to match them, as they are more willing to obey the wishes of their parents and other authoritative family figures. The custom undoubtedly bolsters family stability and fortitude. 

The Bedouins’ high endogamy rate intensifies the risk of birth defects and congenital disorders. The percentage of infant deaths among the Negev Bedouins is three times higher than that of Israel’s Jewish population. Even if the child of close relatives is spared death and serious defects, it may suffer from chronic illness and marked handicaps. 

Over the past few years, Bedouins have been a bit more lenient concerning arranged marriages. Families no longer seek to enforce a match, but rather arrange them by consent. However, it is still common for a young man or woman to agree to marry the person with whom he/she has been matched.

 The aspiration for numerous wives and children has been firmly established in Bedouin tradition for generations. One reason harks back to the days when many children were an economic asset and status symbol. When the Bedouins were an agricultural people, they needed many working hands – and children were a convenient and readily available solution. Now that most Bedouins no longer earn their livelihoods by farming, there is less justification for this custom.   

Today, the Bedouins are undergoing a major internal conflict. Ancient Bedouin tradition is very deeply rooted and affects all aspects of life. Yet on the other hand, the Bedouin population is exposed to the values of the modern world in Israel through the mass media, entertainment and contact with the governing authorities and everyday life in Israel. 

Respecting all opinions, Aysha seeks to legitimize open discussion among the Bedouins, supplying them with tools to help shape their own future. Is change necessary? If so, why? And how quickly? No value judgments are offered in the confrontation between tradition and modernity. Nevertheless, if the resulting discussion of these essential issues does give rise to a need or desire for change, it is of utmost significance that such change be instituted gradually and with maximal sensitivity. Every tradition is the result of an entire social ecology. Consequently, no changes should be introduced with the tradition without taking all its implications into account. 

Another equally important objective of this film is to inform the Bedouins of the range of services available to assist them with family planning, such as clinics, child development centers, Bedouin counselors working in close cooperation with clinic nurses, social workers, psychologists, genetic examinations of various types, etc. If a young Bedouin decides to marry a cousin nonetheless, it is important that the risks be determined before marriage by genetic testing and that examinations are conducted during pregnancy and after birth to reduce any harm that could result from endogamy. In this respect, Aysha will fulfill the essential function of dispelling misguided prejudices about various medical examinations and the risks they entail. At the same time, it will offer a professional, in‑depth exploration of all the various aspects of family planning.

Director Aran Patinkin

Dalia Wiezman

Sound Abed Dajani
Editor Tali Ben-Shabbat
Music Najwa Karem

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