Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bedouin Backstory

It was 10:30 PM in the Al Araqib cemetery. I had just finished my filming for the day. A sliver of moon rose over the the rolling desert hills. The air that made me feel like I was inside a hair dryer most of the day had finally cooled down. I was excited to get into my car with a broken A/C, roll down the windows, put on my classic rock playlist on my Iphone, and cruise back to Tel Aviv, huddling over my last functioning car speaker.

But after a quick pat of my pockets, I realized my mistake. I left my keys in the ignition switch while using my car headlights to get a nicely lit shot of the tombstones hours earlier. I was locked out of my car. I called my Israeli insurance provider to see if I could get assistance. When I mentioned that I was in the unrecognized Arab village of Al Araqib in the Negev desert, I heard 10 seconds of silence. Then finally, "Ehh, we won't go there."

I was stuck and could only laugh at my predicament. But as I have known since my high school psychology class, due to diffusion of responsibility, I had a much better chance of getting help in a tiny village than in New York City. And in the friendly hospitable environs of a Bedouin village, my odds were even better. The first 3 guys I went up to and asked for help in rudimentary Arabic were willing to devote the next hour to the cause of prying open my car.

I have broken into my car once before with a wire coat hanger, but searching through the rubble of Al Araqib's former homes, we couldn't find one. We did find some scrap metal which we bended into a loop, stuck into the doorframe, and tried over and over to catch the lock. Everytime we tried, the man dressed in the white garabiyah would utter a prayer, "Bismilla ir-Rahman ir-Rahim" "In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate."

But the merciful and compassionate God must not have been paying attention. We tried in vein for over an hour, until finally, as a last resort, I gave the go ahead for one of the guys to smash my rear window with a hammer. After I cleared away the shards of glass, opened the rear door, and found my keys in the ignition, the same Muslim man who had helped me since the beginning of my ordeal, stuffed a 100 Shekel note (about 30 USD) in my shirt pocket. He said it was to help pay for a new window. I told him I didn't need it, but it was too late. He vanished into the darkness. Somewhere in the desert, this pious Muslim man in white was happy that he got to perform an act of charity on Ramadan. I figured there's no point chasing after him, and that I had in some way also helped him. I drove home with a shattered rear window, but enjoyed the extra ventilation.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Water Woes

This is the first in a two-part series I produced for Time.com on the water woes in Israel/Palestinian territories.


The second one will focus specifically on the Dead Sea.

This first installment provides a general overview of the problem.