A swimming pool will be inaugurated this week in the Bedouin city Rahat, becoming the first pool in a Bedouin community. It will open to the public next month after receiving formal permits. The pool will operate on a gender-segregated basis, so married couples will not spend time there together, in consideration for customary Bedouin modesty.
The semi-Olympic-size pool was built in a new country-club center spanning more than three acres. It includes a gym, studios, café, tanning balcony, combined soccer pitch and basketball court, playground facilities, a toddlers’ pool and a sauna.
Construction of this center comes after years of neglect by the authorities, who over the years did not build even one swimming pool for Bedouin communities in the Negev. This created tension between Jews and Arabs, with instances in which residents of Jewish communities refused entry to Bedouins at their swimming pools. Several municipalities in the south restricted entry to residents only.
Two months ago, the minister who deals with Bedouin affairs, Uri Ariel, stated that for him a pool is a “symbol” for communities. On a visit to Bedouin communities he said that building such centers would improve relations between the Bedouin and the government. “The Bedouin community should get what it deserves by right, not by grace. It’s not a favor we bestow. It’s a serious oversight that there has been no pool until now.” Ariel added that he’d learned that Bedouin residents travel to distant Arab communities to go to swimming pools.
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Yair Maayan, director of the Bedouin Authority, said that opening the pool in Rahat will “remove a stain on Israeli society. While every Jewish child has one on his doorstep, Bedouin children have to travel long distances, diminishing the experience. Jewish communities, regrettably, failed to make them feel welcome.”
According to the director of Rahat’s Economic Company, Mahmoud al-Amour, all the required permits will be in place next month, after which it will open to the public. He says it will be completely gender-segregated, other than for small children, with Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays designated for women and other days for men. This will be the case at first, and if a change in days is required, including more days for women, adjustments will be made. He rejected the possibility of family days, with men and women coming there together.
A city resident told Haaretz that even though Bedouin families go to the seaside together, or to pools in other locations, the segregation within Rahat is “necessary due to circumstances.” He says “there’s a different mentality here. A Bedouin man with money will prefer accompanying his wife to a Jewish pool but not to one in an Arab community.” He says that even if it were permitted, many families would not come to the new pool together.
Another resident of Rahat, a married woman with children, told Haaretz that she agrees with the segregation policy. “This is a pool. Bathing together is not acceptable to us, as Arab Moslems. It’s not acceptable to wear short clothing. For me, separate bathing is the way it should be.”