The remarkable story of the first Bedouin volunteer unit for the protection of the environment began with Jamil Alataresh.
Alataresh is a historic character all by himself, being the first Bedouin regional supervisor at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (NPA).
Alataresh, who lives near a Bedouin village of Mulada in the Negev, began working in the NPA in 2008 as a security guard at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and immediately fell in love with nature. “I encountered nature preservation during my work, and it interested me. I wanted to be an inspector. In 2011, I became a supervisor and joined in on a research on plants and insects. I was a supervisor of the Dead Sea coastline, the northern Arava region, and the Judean Desert.”
His newly-found love of the enviroment prompted him to try and establish a volunteer unit to promote nature preservation. Alataresh managed to recruit the volunteers during lectures in schools in Bedouin villages and towns, and from his work in the Palestinian Authority.
"They were very enthusiastic, and asked how they could help, and all of a sudden I recruited 14 volunteers," the 41-year-old NPA supervisor said. "They do a wonderful job, patrol the area with me, and help me preserve it, while I teach them how to scout it and read maps. It's a give-and-take relationship.
“It is important for me to raise awareness of nature preservation among the Bedouin community,” he added. “The volunteers are like ambassadors who deliver the message. When they come to volunteer with me, they learn a lot and see how much we do for nature. There is also high responsiveness among the Bedouin. People hear about our volunteer work and they ask to join as well."
Now, the unit boasts 13 volunteers, including one female, Kian Altalalka, from the Bedouin city of Rahat, who is also an NPA instructor in a local school.
Kian is the only woman in the unit, and volunteering has been a part of her for many years. "I volunteer in other fields besides nature preservation. I also teach schoolchildren about the different animals in the Negev and sanitation.
"Volunteering was very common among my family. My father always volunteered and helped others, and everyone in the family supported me. They said 'Do what you love.' Everyone knows that I care about the animals and the environment, and that I love the desert."
She says in this day and age it is not that unusual for a woman from the Bedouin community to volunteer. "We are in 2023. There are Bedouin women who studied medicine, do research. It's not like it was 15 years ago. There are Bedouin women who do things that even men don't do."