In Israel, a Good Samaritan to Russian immigrants
Despite facing discrimination himself, Bedouin lawyer Raid al-Ubrah helps newcomers assert their rights.
It's almost evening and the al-Ubrah family is getting ready to break the Ramadan fast. Women in traditional dress kneel around an open fire making pita bread and the men lounge on cushions waiting for the sun to set and the feast to begin.Skip to next paragraph
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Raid al-Ubrah, the eighth of the family's 10 children, comes screeching home in his silver sports car, takes off his preppy paisley tie, scoops up his 5-year-old son, and puts his two mobile phones on vibrate. Office hours are over, he says with a grin, and its time to switch gears.
Mr. Ubrah cuts a rare figure among the 45,000 Bedouin who live in Rahat, Israel's only Bedouin city. For starters, he is a lawyer – an uncommon profession here. More uniquely, he speaks fluent Russian, having studied in St. Petersburg.
But for Ubrah, his volunteer work stands out. He's the in-house Russian-language lawyer at Yad Riva, a Jewish nonprofit in Beer Sheva that offers free legal assistance to the elderly, many of whom do not speak Hebrew confidently. They come for help with everything from filling in social security and pension forms, to advice on housing loans and what to do when their dog bites the neighbor and they get sued.
"I enjoy the action, I like the old people, and I like helping out," Ubrah says. "Who cares if the person asking for advice is Arab or Jew or Christian?"
From the desert to St. Petersburg
Excepting a high school trip to Egypt, the first time Ubrah left Israel was to study in Russia. Much of his clan – with thousands of members one of the largest in the southern Negev – came to see him off at Ben Gurion Airport.
"My dad grew up in the desert, living in a tent. And, while he may have wanted to be a lawyer, there were no opportunities," he says of his father, a nomad turned truck-company and travel-agency owner. "He paid for all my education and encouraged me. I had to make him proud."
In five years in St. Petersburg, Ubrah learned Russian, received a degree in international law, and came to love the Russian people.
Once he had settled in and started his small practice in Beer Sheva, Ubrah was on the lookout to do something to benefit Russians there.
But for a Bedouin, volunteering within the larger Israeli community is complicated.
"I don't agree with the basic concept of Israel as a Jewish state," says Ubrah, railing against what he calls gross government discrimination against Israeli Arabs, including the Bedouin.
During the last 40 years, about half of the 160,000 Negev Bedouins have moved, or been forced to move, from the desert to one of the seven government established Bedouin urban centers, where infrastructure is weak, and land is insufficient for traditional livelihoods like herding and grazing.