Thursday, July 05, 2012

Are the Negev Bedouin "indigenous"?

From the latest issue of Middle East Forum:
In the past few years, the Bedouin of Israel's Negev have begun claiming the status of an indigenous people, arguing that Israel like other colonialist regimes dominated their territory, refused to admit their lengthy presence in their native land, and denied their rights.[35] This line of argument is consistent with the position of the Arab leadership, voiced as early as the early 1920s, that disparaged the Jewish national revival as an alien, colonial intrusion into the pan-Arab patrimony. These arguments are both erroneous and misleading. To begin with, the Bedouin are by no means the only people who can lay claim to the notion of being a "first people" in Palestine: Jewish attachment to the land predates Arab presence there by millennia. Indeed, of the countless groups that have lived in Palestine since antiquity, Jews are the only nation that can claim an uninterrupted presence on the land from biblical times to date—for a significant amount of the time as its rulers.

...Until the twentieth century the Bedouin of the Middle East, including those of the Negev, were livestock-raising nomads whose movements were dictated by a constant search for pasture and water.[43] It has long been noted that what characterizes the Bedouin is their relationship to the tribe, rather than to a specific place or territory.[44]

Among the Bedouin tribes living in the Negev today, most view themselves as descendants of nomadic tribes from the Arabian Peninsula.[45] In fact, most of them arrived fairly recently, during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, from the deserts of Arabia, Transjordan, Sinai, and Egypt.[46] Part of this migration occurred in the wake of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Palestine in 1798-99 and subsequent Egyptian rule under Muhammad Ali and his son Ibrahim Pasha (r. 1831-41). During this period, Egyptian forces moved through Sinai and into the Negev using the coastal road that runs through Rafah, accompanied by numerous camp followers, peasants, and Bedouin. Some of the Egyptian peasants who followed in the footsteps of the army established new settlements and neighborhoods in Palestine, others joined Bedouin tribes in the Negev.[47]

Ottoman tax registers demonstrate that the tribes which lived in the Negev in 1596-97 are not those residing there today.[48] According to historians Wolf-Dieter Hütteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah, the tax registers that reflect material collected in those years show names of forty-three Bedouin tribes living in what became Mandatory Palestine, including six in the Negev. There is not much information on what became of those tribes.[49] However, the names of the tribes currently living in the Negev do not appear on the tax registers from 1596.[50] The Ottoman government did not maintain reliable records for this area after 1596, so these registers are the best indicators of which tribes existed in the early Ottoman period. Clinton Bailey, a scholar of Bedouin culture, also found no evidence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of the continuity or existence of Bedouin tribes, which later lived in the Negev in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[51]

Bedouin consolidation of their Negev foothold was achieved through armed intertribal struggles as well as raids on established Arab settlements that caused the latter's demise.[52] Although the nomads depended upon sedentary populations for survival, they looked down upon them while settled Arabs viewed the Bedouin as opportunists or worse, as cruel robbers.[53] Numerous authors have documented the Bedouin role in conquering the Negev as well as the plundering and expulsion of settled Arabs from other parts of Palestine.[54] British surveyor and archeologist Claude R. Conder, writing in the 1880s, described a situation of unending war between the Bedouin tribes and the settled villagers.[55]... 

(h/t zozosophie)