Two pictures adorn the wall of Insaf Abu Shareb’s fifth-floor law office in Be’er Sheva. One depicts a flock of doves flying over a Bedouin shantytown in the Negev desert, not unlike the one she grew up in. The other is a framed poster of Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech at the March on Washington in August 1963.
“I have a dream that we, Bedouin women, will end up somewhere better,” she said. “We are so discriminated against, our rights so trampled upon. I dream that one day this wrong will be replaced by justice.”
Abu Shareb runs the southern office of Itach, a feminist nonprofit that lobbies the government to promote women’s rights. A year ago, she started her own private practice, representing Bedouin women fighting for custody and financial independence in family and Sharia courts. Today she is one of fewer than 10 Bedouin women practicing law in Israel.
Her story began in an orchard outside Rishon LeZion, where her father, a farmer, cultivated citrus trees on land rented from a Jewish landowner. At the age of 6, her idyllic memories of climbing trees and playing with friends in the orchard ended when Abu Shareb was sent to live with her paternal grandmother in the village of Sdeir—an unrecognized Bedouin community on the Be’er Sheva-Dimona highway. “At my grandmother’s, I had to herd sheep and harvest the crops. It was a completely different lifestyle than the one I was used to,” she recalled. “The disconnect from my mother destroyed me. It felt as though my parents abandoned me, as though they didn’t care about my child’s soul.”
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