Early each morning, dozens of workers from Jaba’ walk up a narrow set of stairs with trash strewn on either side to reach a bus stop on Highway 60, which bisects the West Bank on its way from Nazareth to Beersheva. As they climb the stairs, the workers pass a tunnel that once allowed villagers convenient access to the highway, but which has been blocked by limestone boulders, dirt and rubble since the intifada of the early 2000s. At this bend in the road, nine miles northwest of Jerusalem, much of the horizon is defined by the 20-foot high concrete separation wall.
Picking up a passenger by the hot, treeless roadside, Bedouin advocate ‘Ali Abu Subayh wheels his Fiat around onto a path, spitting rocks and coating the windows with dust, headed toward an “unrecognized village” in southern Israel. Between the 1950s and 1970s, the Israeli government displaced the Bedouin of the Negev desert into a sliver of land less than 2 percent the size of their former range. The government built seven townships for the Bedouin, and simultaneously declared all existing Negev Bedouin villages to be illegal. Today, Abu Subayh and 80,000 other Bedouin citizens of Israel born in one of these 45 “unrecognized” villages are threatened with further displacement.
The authority to plan and order physical space is among the most significant powers a government possesses. Spatial planning can be a force for reform and emancipation or a mechanism of control and subordination. In Israel, national planning goals are rooted in Zionism’s agenda of nation building and “Judaization” of territory. In the southern desert, known in Arabic as the Naqab and in Hebrew as the Negev, those priorities have led to the expropriation of more than 90 percent of the historical lands of the Palestinian Bedouin for the establishment of Jewish towns. The result is one of the clearest examples of apartheid in Israel.
Tourist destinations are never simply reducible to the sun, sand and sea they offer. The lucrative international trade associated with Third World tourism involves packaging and marketing areas of the world that are most devastated by contemporary economic conditions, essentially creating landscapes of paradise out of realities of poverty. The case of Dahab, a small coastal town in South Sinai, Egypt, offers an example of the processes and power dynamics involved in the production of tourist spaces. What are the political, economic, cultural and moral forces that shape Dahab? Who are the players involved in shaping this local site of tourism, and what are the interests at stake?
Until 1985, the small B’doul tribe resided among the historic ruins of Petra. They made most of their income from tourism, serving as guides, renting out their caves, and selling food and beverages. They also sold archaeological objects found among the ruins, mostly the shards of pots.
In 1985 the Jordanian government moved them to a new village. This relocation was a consequence of two ongoing projects: one to sedentarize the Bedouin, the other to give Petra the status of a national park and thus improve tourism. The actual move was 20 years in the making.
Smadar Lavie, The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mzeina Allegories of Bedouin Identity Under Israeli and Egyptian Rule (California, 1990).
The era of the nation-state has increasingly put into question pastoral nomadism as a way of life and as a distinctive cultural identity. In Saudi Arabia, Bedouin pastoralists have become ranchers who transport their herds to pasture in Toyota pickups. Jordanian Bedouin preserve their identity by soldiering for the Hashemite monarchy. The Bedouin may be central to the nationalist ideologies of states like Libya, but the free herders and warriors of the desert, always something of an idealization, belong to an ever more remote mythical past.
Discotheques and taxicabs all over Egypt last January were playing the songs of a new pop star. No one knew exactly where “the Earthquake of ’88” (his biographer’s term) had come from, but everyone seemed to think Ali Hemida was a Bedouin. Some said he came from Sinai; others said Libya. His music was unusual, his dialect not Egyptian, and his lyrics ("wearing silk, she’s like a gazelle, henna-painted hands") evoked the life of desert Arabs.