Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Evolution of the 'Modern' Transitory Shelter and Unrecognized Settlements of the Negev Bedouin

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Evolution of the 'Modern' Transitory Shelter and Unrecognized Settlements of the Negev Bedouin

Article excerpt


This study reviews the factors involved in the transition from the traditional Bedouin (1) black tent to the tin shack. (2) Many economic, social, and macro-political factors are involved in this transition. It is shown that in functional terms the tin shack is very similar to the traditional tent. However, compared with the traditional tent, the climatic performance of the tin shack is much worse, amplifying ambient temperature extremes, and increasing respiratory related complications. In spite of this poor performance, tin shacks have become the mainstream dwelling form of Bedouin settlements in the Negev during the last three decades.

Keywords: environmental adaptation, indoor climatic conditions, Negev desert, sedentarization, unrecognized villages


The Negev desert in southern Israel is approximately 12,000 sq km, and is part of the desert belt of the Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula. The north-western part of the Negev is semi-arid, the central Negev is arid, and the eastern and southern parts are hyper-arid (Stem et al. 1986). Raising livestock in a nomadic-pastoralist lifestyle comprised for hundreds of years a survival strategy dictated by environmental constraints, which allowed groups of pastoralists in the Middle East to exploit otherwise uninhabitable desert regions. The animals were the source of milk and dairy products, meat, wool (sheep) and hair (goats and camels) for domestic use. Often the livestock were the source of income, from animal sales. For centuries, migration was seasonal related to the exploitation of pastoral resources, especially pasture and water (Havakook 1986; Levi 1987).

Historically, over hundreds of years, nomadism allowed the Bedouin to gain military superiority over sedentary groups, as well as relative independence from the central authorities. This lifestyle allowed them to traverse great distances rapidly, surprise sedentary populations, attack them and take their property (Bonne 1948; Kressel 2002). During significant periods of time under Ottoman rule (1517-1917), agricultural populations were rather unsafe, occasionally being attacked by the Bedouin whose livestock often grazed on agricultural lands (Ben-Zvi 1967; Bonne 1948). The weakness of the Ottoman authorities resulted in strengthened nomadic clans and tribes, which reached a position of control over large areas in remote regions of the Ottoman Empire (Kressel 2002; Sou'ad 1995). The refinement of ways to exploit permanent settlements allowed the Bedouin to collect 'protection' taxes (Bonn6 1948; Braslavski 1946). Also, the control over wide territories allowed them to attack and plunder caravans and 'collect' road taxes from travellers (Havakook 1986; Sou'ad 1995). At times of strong central rule, over-exploitation of the agricultural population was curbed, and a barter economy between farmers and Bedouin thrived (Kressel 2002). By the end of the Ottoman period, the authorities had become more active in areas ruled by Bedouin law. By 1840 the Ottomans had returned to Palestine, and by circa 1880 to the Negev, imposing 'law and order'. The strengthening of central rule brought about the beginning of the Bedouin sedentarization and the spread of agriculture among them (Braslavski 1946; Ben-David and Kressel 1995).

The occupation of the Middle East by British and French forces in the First World War, and the creation of new international borders, allowed further control over nomadic people (Ashkenazi 1972; Sharon 1976; Shmueli 1976). European capital flow into the region and modernization trends, aimed at upgrading transportation means and infrastructure, encouraged population growth in the Negev (Ashkenazi 1972). The development of a modern labour market, combined with the authorities' growing ability to provide services to remote populations, increased Bedouin dependence on the central government and limited their dependence on their natural environment (Bear 1973; Sharon 1976). …

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