Nomadizing the Bedouins: Displacement, Resistance, and Patronage in the Northern Naqab, 1951–52
land expropriation
Zionist left

In the fall of 1951, the Israeli military government of the Negev launched an operation to uproot over five thousand Palestinian Bedouin citizens from the relatively rainy northwest Naqab to its arid eastern side in order to take control of the fertile lands. The campaign formed part of a more comprehensive strategy aimed at inducing the Bedouins to leave the country “voluntarily.” While the operation had far-reaching consequences, it achieved only partial success, as the army was faced with resistance from the Bedouins, some of whose leaders still had powerful patrons within the Zionist movement since before the 1948 war. The hitherto unexamined story of the 1951 displacement campaign thus captures a particular historical moment in the aftermath of the war in which Bedouins’ patronage links were put to the test in the face of the military’s attempts to uproot them. It also demonstrates how the settler-colonial regime sought to take advantage of the contradictions of Indigenous society yet repeatedly found itself unable to fully capitalize on internal divisions among the Bedouins. Lastly, a study of the campaign undermines the prevalent image of a modernizing Israeli state promoting permanent settlement and confronted with obstinate nomadic Bedouins. Like other Palestinians, Bedouins insisted that they were rooted in the local landscape, while the settler-­colonial state sought to uproot them, combining violent “nomadization” with forced “sedentarization.”

Author biography: 

Gadi Algazi is a history professor at Tel Aviv University. He currently works on the social history of scholarly families in the early modern period and histories of dispossession and resettlement in Israel in the 1950s.