Surplus IDF Tents Find New Life Among Hebron Bedouin

Nazam Nawaja sounds and acts very much like a Russian oligarch giving a tour of his estate as he invites his guests to take a look at his luxurious tent, situated in a Bedouin camp near Sussia, in the southern West Bank.

Nawaja, clasping the family cat, a nameless stray, in one hand and his young daughter Lora in the other, is a former electrician for the energy company Paz. In the context of Bedouin homes in the southern Hebron Hills, his is sumptuous: a standard army-issue 16-square-meter tent, which he bought legally.

bedouin - Tal Cohen - November 29 2010
Tal Cohen

Nawaja praises the qualities of the tent: It withstands rain and wind, it doesn't leak or fall apart, and the color doesn't fade. A true Bedouin tent.

The Israel Defense Forces tent, a nightmare for generations of recruits who had to fold the tarpaulin monstrosities, have recently been phased out in favor of air-conditioned living quarters. But the Bedouin are vying for the tents, which are prized for their quality. In the arid southern Hebron Hills, more and more Bedouin are choosing homes made by the IDF.

The tents made it through quite a journey before ending up in the Bedouin camps. In 2005, the army decided to get rid of a surplus of 16-square-meter tents. Yona Ben-Amichai, a Tel Aviv trader with a shop on Ha'aliyah Street, purchased 400 units at NIS 150 apiece. The tents collected dust in his warehouses for a while, before being sold two years ago to Abu Miala, a store owner from Al-Samda Street in Hebron. A Bedouin who uncovered the trove purchased a few dozen and sold them on the road to Beit Yatir for NIS 750 each.

Most of the tent buyers come from the Nawaja tribe, scattered between Sussia and Beit Yatir. The tribe is experiencing a construction boom connected to the new goat dairy, funded by a foreign government, that is being built in the area.

A cave in which some of the Bedouin used to dwell has been converted to a souvenir shop, while old tattered tents are being replaced with new ones. Jihad Nawaja, one of the elders of the tribe, points out a number of tents using military-issue tarpaulin. The Hebrew letter "tzadik," the first letter of the IDF's Hebrew acronym, is visible on the khaki flaps, as is the army's issue number.

The new tents are attracting some more traditional clientele as well, like the IDF reservists who try to confiscate them from time to time, claiming the tents are stolen. After a few raids, the tent owners began carrying around the receipt from the Defense Ministry, like some ancient writ.

Nazam Nawaja's receipt is stored, neatly folded, at the bottom of his toolbox.

"NIS 750 is a lot of money for me," he said.