Israel: Bedouin Youth Use IM to Bypass Cultural Prohibitions

Adnan Gharabiya, 34, lives in Wadi al-Na’am, a Bedouin community adjacent to Ramat Hovav in the south of Israel. The place is not connected to the electricity grid or to running water. While working on his thesis, Gharabiya discovered that instant messaging applications are extremely popular among Bedouin youth, the poorest, most neglected segment of Israel’s population. Girls find IM service extremely useful as it allows them to bypass cultural prohibitions and not be scrutinized for chatting with boys, or even falling in love.

Quotes and link from an interview with Gharabiya below:

“The tribal structure is very strong, and a teenage boy up to age 18 is almost constantly around the tribe and the community,” says Gharabiya. “The Bedouin are usually isolated and cut off also from the rest of Israeli society, from the rest of the Arab sector, which lives mostly in the north, and from Arabs in other countries. Chat rooms open a window.”

The Internet made the greatest change in the lives of young girls. “In Bedouin society there is rather strict separation of the sexes, and a chat room is the only place where they can talk with members of the opposite sex,” says Gharabiya. “It is especially significant for the girls, because their social circle is even smaller, and their freedom of movement is limited. Not all of them can leave their parents’ community. Unlike the boys, girls are not allowed to go to town after classes, or to visit friends. In this respect, technology is very important.”

“In our society, the girl must be respectable and act moderately, because what’s important for a girl in this society is her reputation,” said A., one of the girls interviewed for the research. “In Bedouin society, it is forbidden to talk to a boy, to send him letters and to fall in love with him … but in a chat room, no one knows if you’re talking to boys there. They think you’re a good, respectable girl, and that’s the main thing. You write to people while no one sees you, but you and your real-life behavior are always under scrutiny.”

Chat rooms let them bypass customs and prohibitions, and overcome the strict limits in traditional society, primarily the separation of the sexes and the severe restrictions imposed on women. “There is a lot more freedom in a chat room,” says Gharabiya. “Among the family, it is not common to discuss all subjects, primarily when the children are adolescents. In a chat room, you can discuss everything, if you find someone who is receptive.”



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