I recently received a telephone call from a man named Adel, from the nearby Bedouin village of Ayedat. He is in the final stages of submitting his master’s thesis and needed help with editing the English abstract. I frequently edit English texts on you-name-the-topic, but when he told me the subject of his thesis, I was especially pleased to help.
Adel had researched and written about the changing role of the hakura in Bedouin society in Northern Israel. A hakura is a kind of kitchen garden that is kept next to the house. In Arab farming communities, maintaining a hakura was once very common. According to Adel, however, only when the Bedouins here in the north gave up their nomadic ways and settled into villages did they take up the practice of keeping a hakura.
The thesis described what plants and trees were commonly found in the hakura and how they were used. He explained that no self-respecting hakura was without an olive and fig tree, and the religious significance of those trees related to references in the Koran.
His research concluded that the hakura is a dying practice – that the young generation of Bedouins is quite content to buy their vegetables in the produce store. The younger women he interviewed told him that they were too busy to work in a hakura. I asked him if he felt that that answer really reflected the entire picture.
Look at my hands, he said, holding them out in front of me. They were rough and etched with black lines. The women teachers at my school always comment on my hands – do you think they want to ruin their fingernails working in the dirt?
Abu Malek told me that, in the old times, after a man plowed the ground for the hakura, all the rest of the work – planting, weeding, harvesting – was done by women. How understandable that women today prefer to pay a few shekels over this backbreaking work.
The hakura may soon be a thing of the past, but Adel told me that one of the projects he plans to initiate is to circulate a questionnaire in Arab schools, asking children to interview their parents and grandparents about their experience with these home gardens. At least another generation will maintain the hakura in their living memories.
My book, Breaking Bread in Galilee, was reviewed in the current (Winter) issue of Lilith magazine. You can read it here: