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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.