Prof. Sarab Abu Rabia-Queder
Prof. Sarab Abu Rabia-QuederIsrael news photo: courtesy of Ben Gurion Uni

The first Bedouin woman to hold a doctorate describes herself as an “insider-outsider in three cultures.”

Professor Sarab Abu Rabia-Queder, a lecturer at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, grew up in Be'er Sheva, the unofficial capital of the south, a melting pot for many of Israel's cultures.

But as an educated woman, she often found herself on the fringes of the local southern male-dominated Bedouin society, as well as that of the Israelis around her. She also felt connected, and yet somewhat distant, from her mother's northern Arab culture. 

Daughter of the first Bedouin physician and his wife, an Arab from northern Israel, she was the first girl from her tribe to go to college. “I grew up like an insider/outsider in each of these three cultures,” Abu Rabia-Queder explains. She later did her postdoctoral studies in 2007 at the Gender Studies Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and in 2008 at the International Department of Development Studies at Oxford University.

Abu Rabia-Queder recently completed her latest book,  “Palestinian Women in Israel: Life and Struggle from the Margins,” co-edited with Naomi Weiner. 

She was one of eight Bedouin women in the first such class at BGU in 1995. Today, there are hundreds supported by the Robert H. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development -- which provides a platform for advanced research, academic conferences and a series of publications to advance knowledge about the population.

Abu Rabia-Queder meanwhile is today a full-time lecturer occupying the D.E. Koshland Jr. Family Career Development Chair in Desert Studies. She teaches courses on the Negev Bedouin and other indigenous peoples as well as Arab feminist literature of the Middle East and North Africa.

She and her husband Hassan, an accountant who was a fellow student at BGU, live with their three young sons, ages 7, 5 and 18 months, in a Jewish neighborhood of Be'er Sheva. The boys attend a local bilingual school run by the Hagar Association, where Jewish and Arab children learn side by side.

“I think if something would bring real peace and understand to our region, it is this school,” Abu Rabia-Queder said in an interview for an article published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “They grow up knowing each other as human beings with day to day contact between them and their families, and with an understanding of each other's narratives and history.”