McKee, Emily Dwelling in Conflict. Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016.
Land disputes in Israel are most commonly described as stand-offs between distinct groups of Arabs and Jews. In Israel’s southern region, the Negev, Jewish and Bedouin Arab citizens and governmental bodies contest access to land for farming, homes, and industry and struggle over the status of unrecognized Bedouin villages. “Natural,” immutable divisions, both in space and between people, are too frequently assumed within these struggles.
Dwelling in Conflict offers the first study of land conflict and environment based on extensive fieldwork within both Arab and Jewish settings. It explores planned towns for Jews and for Bedouin Arabs, unrecognized villages, and single-family farmsteads, as well as Knesset hearings, media coverage, and activist projects. Emily McKee sensitively portrays the impact that dividing lines—both physical and social—have on residents. She investigates the political charge of people’s everyday interactions with their environments and the ways in which basic understandings of people and “their” landscapes drive political developments. While recognizing deep divisions, McKee also takes seriously the social projects that residents engage in to soften and challenge socio-environmental boundaries. Ultimately, Dwelling in Conflict highlights opportunities for boundary crossings, revealing both contemporary segregation and the possible mutability of these dividing lines in the future.
Table of Contents
1. Narrating Present Pasts
2. Seeking Recognition
Bridge: Distant Neighbors
3. Coping with Lost Land
4. Reforming Community
5. Challenging Boundaries
EMILY McKEE is Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department and the Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy at Northern Illinois University.
This article examines how social preferences, in the form of cultural politics, become concretised in land laws. In Israel, Bedouin Arabs in unrecognised villages and Jewish farmers of individual farmsteads each faced governmental eviction orders and responded by seeking recognition of their land-use practices as legal. However, whereas Jewish farmers successfully mobilised place-based identities to gain legalisation, Bedouin Arabs’ dwelling practices were not recognised as the legitimate basis for land claims, and their attempts to assert place-based identities have been denied. Instead, Bedouin Arabs faced pressures of ‘de-cultural accommodation’ and continued evictions. Ethnographic comparison of these two cases of ‘illegal’ settlement demonstrates how cultural identities – as former nomads or pioneer farmers – matter for land claims.
When do words and actions empower? When do they betray? Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this volume tracks the repercussions of advocacy activism against house demolitions in ‘unrecognised’ Arab-Bedouin villages in Israel’s southern ‘internal frontier’. It highlights the repercussions of activism for victims, fund-raisers and activists. The ethnographic episodes show how humanitarian aid intervention and indigenous identity politics can turn into a double-edged sword. Ironically, institutional lobbying for coexistence and its interpretative categories can sometimes perpetuate different forms of subjugation. The volume also shows how, beyond the institutional lobbying, novel figures of activism emerge: informal networks create non-sectarian, cross-cutting countercultures and rethink human-environment relationships. These experimental political subjects redefine the categories of the conflict and elude the logic of zero-sum games; they point towards a shifting paradigm in current ethnopolitics.
Koensler outlines an ethnographic approach for the study of social movements that follows multiple relations around mobilisations rather than studying activism in itself. This perspective thus becomes relevant for scholars and activists engaged with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those interested in global rights discourses.
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Note on Transliteration
PART I: THE SOCIAL LIFE OF CLAIMS
1. Ethnography and social movement studies
2. The life of Israeli-Palestinian claims
PART II: CONTRADICTIONS
3.The ‘ghost village’
5. Frictions and connections
PART III: INNOVATIONS
6. Politics of polyphony?
7. Global ecosophies
Appendix: Conceptual Tour
ALEXANDER KOENSLER is Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Queen’s University Belfast, UK.