Dwelling in Conflict
Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging
Emily McKee


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The book begins with an introduction to the lived experiences of Negev land conflict and the pessimism with which many residents view prospects for amelioration. The introduction reviews existing sociopolitical explanations for Palestinian-Israeli conflict and explains the added benefits of considering this conflict as environmental, too. It lays out the book's argument that environmental discourses have been used by people on all sides of the conflict to naturalize a binary division between Jews and Arabs. The text explains the political dwelling perspective that guides the book's analysis, drawing phenomenologically oriented notions of landscapes as the embodiments of residents' dwelling tasks together with political ecology's keen attention to the material and ideological importance of power in shaping relations between people and their environments. Discussion of the study's multiple field sites and its design of boundary crossing frames a discussion of methodology and of the ethics of researching within ongoing conflict.

1 Narrating Present Pasts
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the use of several dominant environmental discourses in competing Zionist and counter-Zionist Negev land claims. A historical examination of three key discourses within the Zionist movement explains the layered meanings that references to key topics such as farming, territory, wilderness, and rootedness, hold today. This discursive genealogy continues to influence the tactics and strategies of contemporary land struggles, particularly for Bedouin Arab residents telling histories of the Naqab. On one level, reminiscences counter erasures in Zionist narratives, peopling the barren wastelands of Zionist accounts with vibrant Bedouin Arab communities. However, even those accounts that most forcefully oppose Zionist histories on the surface often rest on environmental discourses shared with Zionism, such as the power of labor in land to bolster claims.

2 Seeking Recognition
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This chapter compares two cases of "illegal" land use to consider the stakes of environmental discourses and the land claims they support. In one case, Jewish farmstead owners built houses on agricultural land and in the other, Bedouin Arab residents built on lands declared as state-owned. In both cases the government threatened eviction, and residents sought governmental recognition of their land claims, but they faced very different public and governmental responses. The chapter develops the idea of de-cultural accommodation to demonstrate the social and political production of laws and illegality. Following the discursive genealogy in chapter one, this chapter demonstrates how dominant environmental discourses in Israel, despite being contingent because they are historically shaped and not naturally given, hold great power to carve the Negev into socially and geographically segregated spaces.

Bridge: Distant Neighbors
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A bridge introduces the second half of the book, which zooms in on the everyday dwelling practices and experiences of residents in the Negev in order to explore how residents shape and are shaped by the state-planned landscapes within which they dwell. The bridge introduces the social and spatial distance between the two case study towns that provide the bulk of this dwelling analysis. It depicts the region's divided landscapes by narrating the disjointed journey necessary to move from one town to the next, but it also shows residents ability to creatively use these landscapes by describing two atypical ventures into the largely abandoned buffer zone between the towns.

3 Coping with Lost Land
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Chapter three focuses on life in 'Ayn al-'Azm, a government-planned township for Bedouin Arabs. Recalling former homes with more rural lifestyles, many residents viewed their moves into the planned township as a shift from freedom to restriction, intra-family closeness to inter-family friction, and self-sufficiency to dependence. Government plans for "modernization" and efficiency created landscapes that felt uncomfortable to many residents and prevented agricultural and pastoral dwelling practices. Residents coped with this urban planning with taskscapes that ranged from acquiescence (e.g., establishing a nuclear family household and taking up wage labor) to "making do," in de Certeau's sense of the term (e.g., staking a tent in front of one's concrete block house), to public advocacy (e.g., a heritage tourism venture). Most formed ambivalent attachments to the township, feeling felt strong ties to family and neighborhood, but alienation from the township as a collective landscape.

4 Reforming Community
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This chapter presents the Jewish moshav of Dganim, settled by new immigrants from Cochin, India in the 1950s. Striving to meet Zionist priorities of nation building, moshav residents built a cooperative farming community. However, this farming role collapsed in recent years, leaving not just agriculture but also cooperative work in jeopardy of disappearing from the moshav. As residents have sought out new endeavors to support the moshav, many have viewed Cochini heritage tourism as the moshav's best hope for cooperative success within Israel's new economic climate. In the course of their economic transitions, residents have chosen taskscapes that affirmed moshav lands as Jewish and separated them from nearby Bedouins. Throughout the chapter, comparisons and contrasts drawn between Dganim and 'Ayn al-'Azm show how two very different experiences with government planners have led residents to develop different senses of place and different understandings of their own power to shape place.

5 Challenging Boundaries
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This chapter probes the potential of deliberate engagement with the everyday politics of dwelling to shift dominant environmental discourses. It examines three environmental justice campaigns run by Bustan—political and environmental educational tours, an alternative energy campaign, and sustainable design classes—attending to their successes and stumbles. Through practical involvement in home building, energy provisioning, and personal and governmental planning, these campaigns aim to change norms of land ownership and ethno-political identification in Israel. The group proceeds through "bricolage activism," resourcefully re-deploying existing ideas, practices, and rhetoric about Bedouins and Jews, citizenship, and society and nature. This activism attempts to re-signify divisive discourses with more inclusive frames of co-residence, stewardship, and socio-environmental sustainability. The chapter considers the potential and limitations of Bustan's efforts to challenge the status quo of land conflict through a politics of boundary softening, rather than purely confrontational activism.

chapter abstract

The conclusion pulls analysis forward to more recent developments in the Negev. Analyzing debates about a government proposition for settling Negev land claims known as the Prawer Plan and a proposal to develop new Negev towns, it demonstrates that well-worn binary oppositions between Jew and Arab, progress and tradition, and culture and nature continue to guide discussion in implicit and explicit ways. The conclusion suggests how the insights of the book's political attuned dwelling analysis can be used to develop interventions, such as integrated planning and boundary softening, that may be capable of achieving just and lasting solutions to the stymied conflict.