- Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging by Emily McKee
While the study of Bedouins of Israel’s Negev Desert is familiar territory, Dwelling in Conflict offers a perspective that could potentially address a significant void in the literature. What Dr. Emily McKee seeks to do here is to situate the ongoing Bedouin-Jewish Israeli relationship within an “environmental” discourse. (p. 9). As she rightly notes, many who have come before her have looked at the issue of Bedouin (re)settlement in the Negev from political, sociological, anthropological, and similar approaches. Few, if any have recognized that in the 21st century, any dispute over land as exists in the Negev is, ipso facto, an environmental dispute as well. This is the central objective of McKee’s book (p. 15) — clearly an endeavor worthy of consideration and study.
Yet the methodology of this work gives the reader a sense early on not only of how this study came into fruition but also what its limitations might be, considering McKee’s lack of familiarity with the region (p. xi) and how expressed fervor for “environmental activism” (p. ix). McKee first connects with Ra’ed Al Mickawi and Devorah Brous (both well-acquainted with this author), who work at Bustan, a well-intentioned nongovernmental [End Page 156] organization operating in the Negev. Using participant observation, McKee’s goal is to learn as much as she can in a short period of time, not only about the conditions and concerns of the Bedouin community, but of Jewish Israelis living in the Negev as well. Thus, in a 16-month period she completed her work, noting that people found it odd that she was so willing to “risk” working in both communities. Rather, she suggests, “more work of this kind must be done” (p. 17).
While there is no doubt that the only way to fully understand and appreciate the Bedouin condition in Israeli society today is to place them within the context of their Jewish neighbors, McKee is not the first to make this realization, nor is she the first to “risk” speaking to and working in both communities. But it is difficult to get into any depth of analysis when one has limited time. As such, the material presented here is very descriptive. McKee is a good storyteller, able to relate events that occurred and conversations that she had during her visits with friendly interlocutors. But when it comes to forming any sort of analysis, she is at a disadvantage. Her theoretical narratives are narrow and seen through the lens of her own views and preconceptions. Meantime, her familiarity with the literature (despite her impressive bibliography) is not always utilized.
As but one example, she writes:
Residents [of Bedouin towns] perceived the landscapes within which they lived in a bifurcated manner; home and family neighborhood were safe and welcoming spaces, but from the township as a whole felt alienated.
Perhaps ironically, residents’ reactions to this alienation often created landscapes that seemed to confirm derogatory stereotypes of Bedouin disorder. Residents’ attempts to create family cul-de-sacs from planned through-streets looked to visitors like piles of garbage. Residents trying to continue agropastoral taskscapes in the urban township not designed for them displeased some of their neighbors with the smell of their goats, or slaughtered animals in their courtyards and let blood run in the streets (p. 118).
Bedouins from the planned towns of the Negev do indeed live in boundaried geographies of difference — as do Israeli Jews, Europeans, Americans, and others. Such divisions are informed by gender, tribe, race, mosque affiliation, wealth, and other criteria specific to complex sociospatial dynamics unique to the history and culture of the Negev Bedouin community. There is a vast literature on these issues which might better explain dynamics among and between families and households within the planned environment. But further, the suggestion that Bedouin “agropastoral taskscapes” are under siege by smelly goats and trash is a questionable contention at best. Is this the...