Heroes of the Desert
This is Hazem abu Gwedar. I first met Hazem hitchhiking back to Beer Sheva from the village of Al-Zarnouq; he gave me a lift. A few weeks later, I was in Al-Zarnouq again and met Hazem’s brother, Muhammad. We subsequently became friends and it wasn’t till a few weeks later that I realized that Hazem was Muhammad’s brother. Since then, I’ve become friends with their entire extended family, and they are one of the reasons why Al-Zarnouq is my favorite village in Israel, and I consider the abu Gwedar clan to be the warmest and most kind people I’ve met.
Hazem abu Gwedar is the only Bedouin with a certified teacher-level black belt in Shotokan Karate. He makes his living driving a bulldozer, and teaching in a dojo in Ashkelon to Jewish Israeli students, but started a small Karate club in his village to teach the kids Karate. They were featured in a documentary about the village, which I have digitized and put online here. In it, the kids talk about the ways in which the experience of learning Karate has changed their lives, made them see the world differently, allowed them to connect to each other in ways they would not have been able to otherwise. There are subtitles in Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic, but not English.
One time I asked him if he’s ever had to use Karate out of the dojo. He sort of looked away for a moment and said, “…once. In Akko.” I asked what happened and he said, “This group of fellahin [non-Bedouin Northern Arabs] came up to me and a few friends near the beach. They had been drinking. They started to give us trouble and I straightened them out.”