Last night the Abu Arar family from Burgatah in the Sharon area sat down as usual to break the Ramadan fast. The father of the family, 58-year-old Shahdah, sat at the head of the long table and looked at his large family: Eight wives, 20 little grandchildren, and 67 children. The eldest of his children is 37 and the youngest is a newborn child.
Shahdah Abu Arar has broken Israel's fatherhood record. He started out in 1967. "My first wife was a member of my tribe from the village of Arar in the Negev. We had a lot of children at the time; I had 31 children from my first two wives. The eldest already has his own children, and they all live with me in the complex surrounding my house. We are a very close family," Shahdah says.
Shahdah and some of his family
"My first wife is my age, and nowadays I hardly spend any time with her," Shahdah describes his daily routine. "Her children have grown, and I leave her alone. I have younger wives to be with. Every night I decide which wife to go to. I really feel like an effendi in my home. My wives do whatever I want and they very much want me to spend time with them."
Shahdah prefers that his wives not be photographed. "I prefer them to stay at home, they have a lot to do. Each one has to take care of her own children, and I have my own chores. I make sure they are all fed. It's very difficult. But thank God my children help out, and we make a good living."
The dozens of children running around the yard raise several other questions. "I remember each and everyone's name," Shahdah announces, but he refuses to say how many girls and how many boys he has. "Equal amounts," he estimates. "Sometimes they nag, but I already know how to deal with them. I give orders, and they carry them out. Their mothers teach them that they have to listen to their father, and that's what they do."
The Ministry of Interior recognizes that Shahdah is the father of 53 children. However there is a legal dispute regarding the other 14, whose mothers are residents of the territories. Ministry sources said that if they recognize the children born in the territories, they would all have to be given Israeli citizenship and the accompanying benefits and allowances.
Fifteen-year-old Mohamed says: "Everyday a bus comes to the village and takes 30 children to school in Kalansuwa, the little ones stay at home with their mothers."
Shahdah's youngest wife is 23 and comes from the Jenin refugee camp. "She is pregnant and there is another wife expecting. They already know me at the Meir hospital in Kfar Saba. We always have new children in our house, and a month after they give birth my wives are back to normal."
Shahdah and his children grow flowers and vegetables near the family complex, there is also a pen where they raise cows, sheep and goats "so we have something to eat," he says. "I am also the only camel breeder in the entire Sharon area. I have many camels that give meat, milk and wool and that supports us," he explains. Adjacent to the house there is also a donkey pen.
"I am happy I have kids, this is what God gave us, and this is what he wants, and I do what he tells me," boasts Shahdah. "Now I am thinking about a new wife, number nine, and I am already preparing for the marriage. There are many women who wish to marry me and there is no lack of women, I never had a problem with such things."
Ministry records show that the runner up for the fatherhood title is Omer Gavar from the Triangle area who claims to have fathered 39 children from four wives, three of whom are Palestinian.