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General Articles
Bedouin Settlement in Late Ottoman and British Mandatory Palestine: Influence on the Cultural and Environmental Landscape, 1870-1948


Editorial Note:

Israel's treatment of the Negev Bedouins has become highly politicized under the doctrine of "indegeneity" developed by ethnographers and some legal scholars.  The doctrine states that "native people's self- evident attachment to place is paramount in the articulation of rights to land;"  Oren Yiftachel, a critical geographer, and Alexander Kedar, a critical legal expert, have claimed that Israel, a colonial/apartheid state, has violated the indegenity laws. They excoriate the Israeli government for herding the Bedouins into permanent settlements, confiscating their land and otherwise disrupting their nomadic existence. As IAM reported, Yiftachel and his followers have either overlooked or distorted the complex history of the Bedouins to make the case against Israel. The following article sheds more light on this issue.

Seth J. Franztman and Ruth Kark , “Bedouin Settlement in Late Ottoman and British Mandatory Palestine: Influence on the Cultural and Environmental Landscape, 1870-1948,”  http://www.brismes.ac.uk/nmes/archives/268 
A short summary is provided:

Following the Arab invasion in the seventh century, Bedouins started to make their way towards the Holy Land.   These Bedouin resided in an area that was sparsely populated.  According to Ruth Kark and Noam Levin, during the Mamluk period from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, “the decline of the coastal towns and settlements paved the way for Bedouins to spread periodically into the coastal plain and valleys.”   The major tribes of the Negev, Gaza, and the Judean Hills have different histories.  

Researchers Eliahu Epstein, Gideon Kressel, and Clinton Baily claim that some of the Bedouin tribes came to the Holy Land following Napoleon’s invasion of 1799.  Wolf Dieter Hutteroth’s and Kamal Abdulfattah’s historical-geographical study of Palestine towards the end of the sixteenth century provided details regarding the Bedouin tribes that existed in the Holy Land during the beginning of Ottoman rule.   According to their research, these Bedouin tribes that existed in the Holy Land in 1596 no longer existed in the area by the nineteenth century.   Regardless, a study done by the British Palestine Exploration Fund found that between 1871 and 1877, there were 67 Bedouin tribes, compared to 43 that existed in 1596, resulting in the conclusion that areas dominated by the Bedouins had increased within what was Mandatory Palestine.  For example, the Bedouin Ghawarina tribe was a mixture of different ethnic groups who arrived in the Holy Land in the 1830’s in connection to the Egyptian occupation of the country.  


The Ottomans viewed the Bedouin as a threat to their authority.   According to one Ottoman governor, “on many occasions they abused the trust that the state placed in them.   They stole state money, and they unlawfully ceased public property, thus they enriched themselves at the expense of the peasantry and the state.”   In 1867, the Ottomans sent representatives to punish the Bedouin in Jordan who had harassed hajj caravans.  Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Sultan Abdulhabid II sought through his agents to establish settlements for Bedouin and to place loyal Muslim immigrants from the Caucasus and Balkans in areas dominated by nomads.   Between 1870 and 1891, the Ottomans attempted to pacify the Bedouin of the Negev at least four times, without much success.   These attempts led to construction leading to the establishment of Be’ersheva, Baysan, and Auja Al Hafir, in addition to building in Asluj and Fatish.   The result of such policies was the strengthening of the settled peoples at the expense of the Bedouin.


Another Ottoman policy to weaken the Bedouins was to purchase large amounts of state land and to bring in non-Bedouins to cultivate the land.   This was the result of the Ottoman Land Code of 1858, which defined landholdings precisely, abolished the system of tax farming, and restored the state’s rights to the land.   After this law was issued, almost all of the land in Palestine was defined as state land.   Only three percent of what became mandatory Palestine was privately owned land after this law was passed! The results of this policy were that Arab effendis, and subsequently, Jewish organizations began purchasing lands that the Bedouins used, leading to increased cultivation, the foundation of new settlements, and changes in the Bedouin life-style.  

In response to these Ottoman policies, some Bedouins adopted a sedentary life-style.   Eight Bedouin villages and hamlets founded after 1870 were recorded in the British Mandate’s 1922 census.   The same census also noted 77 tribal areas, where nomadism was still dominant.   Only three of the eight new Bedouin villages constructed in the late Ottoman period were built on the sultan’s former land.   The Bedouin tribes that adopted the sedentary way of life included members of the Ghazzawiya, Khuneizer, Safa, Um Ajra, and Baniha tribes.  


During the British Mandate, colonial administrators, like the Ottomans, engaged in policies biased against the Bedouin nomadic way of life.  The Mandatory Authorities found it difficult to fit the Bedouin into their system of governance, which was based on placing a group within a fiscal and administrative district, and believed that Bedouin ideals contradicted their ideal image for Palestine.   Furthermore, the mandatory authorities viewed the Bedouins as a nuisance since they operated outside the bureaucracy.   For example, in Dalhamiya, the Arab Hanadi tribe was recognized only as cultivators of the land, since “the village of Dalhamiya had disappeared and Jewish colonies had taken its place.”  Thus, in response to the Bedouins not fitting into the British Mandatory bureaucratic system, the mandatory authorities adopted the Bedouin Control Ordinance of 1942, which sought to impose a settled way of life upon the Bedouins and gave the authorities the power to tell nomadic peoples to “go to or not to go to or to remain in any specified area.”   The reasoning for this ordinance was to halt Bedouin raiding, stop illicit grazing, and to keep Bedouin off lands that they didn’t own.  


However, British Mandatory policies towards the Bedouins in practice differed according to regions.   In November 1921, the Ghor-Mudawarra Land Agreement was implemented, which gave Bedouins of the Bayson district 179,545 dunams for three Bedouin tribal areas.  Yet the consequences were not what the British intended them to be.  It took years to process the land transfers and many of the Bedouins who received land in turn sold the land to Arab effendis or Jewish organizations, resulting in non-Bedouins using the land intended for Bedouins for cultivation and settlement projects, with the exception of the construction of several small villages.   Most of these Bedouin either became tenants or moved to other areas.  Events, however, transpired differently in the Be’ersheva district, where many mandatory ordinances were not applied, making this district unique in its lack of Bedouin sedentarization in comparison to other areas.  


It is important to remember that other locations had different results than both Bayson and Be’ersheva.   Thanks to demographic pressures and mandatory policies, the Bedouins built lots of new settlements between 1931 and 1945.   In Gaza, one settlement was built; in Ramla, three tribes settled down; in Jericho, three settlements were established; in Jaffa, four tribes built settlements; the Hawarith tribe settled in Tulkarm; in Nablus, there was also a Bedouin settlement; in the Haifa district, three tribes settled in the Jezreel Valley, etc. The estimated population of the new Bedouin villages in 1945 was 27,844 living in more than 2,000 dwellings, mainly in northern and central Palestine.   While this represented only 2.8 percent of the Bedouin population at the time, it represented a fundamental shift from a nomadic culture to a more settled way of life.


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