Beni Sakhr

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Beni Sakhr is the name of a large Bedouin tribe living in Jordan.

Sheikh al-Faiz, Jerusalem, 1933

In the 1799 the Beni Sakhr joined the Es-Sabhah and other tribes in a full-scale battle against a force from Napoleon's army under the command of General Kleber. The fighting occurred south of Nazareth, with the French having such an advantage in terms of guns and artillery that Amir Rabah, the leader of the Beni Saqr, commenting on the effectiveness of his spear, said that he "could not swin in hell with a stick."[1]

In the 19th century, the Beni Sakhr lived as nomads. Their income came from trading camels and from the protection they could give, or refuse to give, to more settled peoples. In 1867, the Ottoman Empire launched a raid which defeated the Beni Sakhr and ended their practice of collecting khuwwa (protection money) from established settlements.

For fifty years up to 1920 the Beni Sakhr were friends and allies of the Al Rashid dynasty. The relationship ended with Ibn Saud's conquest of the Nejd. It had its roots in the early nineteenth century when Abdullah Ibn Rashid was fleeing the Ibn Ali family after a conflict over leadership of the Shammar tribe. Ibn Rashid and his brother with a single camel arrived at the tents belonging to Al Khuraisha, leader of the Beni Sakhr. The Sheikh was not there but all the same they were given hospitality. During the night the camel died and the next day they continued their flight on foot. Some distance from the camp they met Al Khuraisha returning home. On hearing their story he insisted on them taking the camel he was riding, claiming that no guest who came into his camp riding should leave on foot. When Ibn Rashid came to power in the Nejd this deed was remembered.[2]

In 1875 a member of the Palestine Exploration Fund's survey team reported finding the Beni Sakhr in the Ghor, a considerable extent of which was under cultivation. They had several herds containing 100 to 300 head of cattle and many sheep and goats as well as camels and horses. He mentions that they had fewer camels than previously since their power had been broken 7 or 8 years earlier by Mohammed Said, Pasha of Nablus, but that the current government was impotent. He counted 150 tents and estimated the tribe strength as 400 men.[3]

Two years later, 1877, the survey team led by Lieutenant Kitchener, found the Beni Sakhr camped on the road to Jenin, and later between Beisan and Tiberias. Kitchener reported that their Sheikh, Fendy el Feiz, was the most powerful local leader and could muster 4,500 fighting men. The sheikh showed Kitchener a coat of mail that probably dated to the early centuries of the Arab conquests and appeared to be on good terms with the government. The tribe showed no sign of lawlessness, though local farmers had to harvest their crops early to avoid them being eaten by the grazing camels. The Beni Sakhr showed no interest in the ongoing war in the Balkans and expressed a strong dislike of the Turks.[4]

In November 1877 Kitchener visited the Beni Sakhr again. This time they were camped in Wadi Farrah having left the area around Zerin in the Jezreel Valley following the murder near Nazareth of a British man, Mr Gale, about which they had come under suspicion. Sheikh Fendy was absent at Bosra selling camel to pilgrims on the Haj. The Beni Sakhr were close to having a monopoly in this trade and could make £1,500 in a season. Whilst in Bosra the sheikh was arrested. His son was killed in a rescue attempt. The father was released and is reported as having said "My son and I were servants of the Sultan, now he has one less". This was taken to mean that the tribe would not engage in a blood feud.[5]

In 1891 missionaries reported fighting north of Kerak between the Beni Sakhr and the Hameidah. And again in 1893 the route between Kerak and Madaba was closed due to fighting between the Beni Sakhr and the Anazi.[6]

In June 1917 Fawaz el Faiz, one of the leaders of the Beni Sakhr, had a secret meeting with T.E. Lawrence. El Faiz was a member of an anti-Turkish committee in Damascus and Lawrence was seeking support for his military campaign. Immediately after the meeting Lawrence fled fearing betrayal. El Faiz was killed shortly afterwards. By June 1918 the Beni Sakhr were united in their opposition to the Turks and were offering to provide the Husseini forces with at least eleven thousand men costing £30,000 a month. In addition they would donate the harvest of Kerak and Madeba.[7]

In 1923 Ibn Saud's Ikhwan made a large incursion westward and many Beni Sakhr were killed.[8]

On 8 April 1933 Sheikh Mithqal Pasha al-Faiz, Chief of the Beni Sakhr, was a member of a delegation which met the President of the Zionist Organisation, Chaim Weizmann, and the head of the Zionist political department in Palestine, Chaim Arlosoroff, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.[9]

A series of events in the 1920s and 1930s put further pressure on their nomadic lifestyle, eventually leading to famine. The Beni Sakhr were saved from this by the British government ruling Jordan at the time. In exchange, the British required the Beni Sakhr to give up their nomadic lifestyle and become more established sheep, rather than camel, herders. In the decades since then, pressures on the Beni Sakhr to give up part of their land have led to occasional tension between them and the Jordanian government. However, this tribe still the reliable partner for the country. In the last century they defeated those who called themselves Wahabi when they came to occupy Jordan.[10]


  1. ^ Macalister and Masterman, 1906, p. 114.
  2. ^ Glubb, 1978, pp. 157-8.
  3. ^ Tyrwhitt Drake, 1875, pp. 28, 32
  4. ^ Kitchener, 1877, p. 164; Kitchener, 1878, p. 11; Reports dated 23 August and 7 September 1877.
  5. ^ Kitchener, 1878, p. 63
  6. ^ Forder, 1902, pp. 16, 27
  7. ^ Wilson, Jeremy (1989) Lawrence of Arabia: the authorised biography of T.E.Lawrence. Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-87235-0. Pages 415, 515. The figure of 11,000 comes from a report by Lawrence.
  8. ^ Glubb, 1978, p. 156
  9. ^ Cohen, Aharon (1970) Israel and the Arab World. W.H. Allen. ISBN 0-491-00003-0. Pages 252-255.
  10. ^