Book ReviewsReviews

The History and Politics of the Bedouin. Reimagining Nomadism in Modern Palestine


In this book, the author Seraj Assi, who is a Arab citizen of Israel holding an MA in Middle East History from Tel Aviv University and is a PhD candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. has brilliantly highlighted the various narratives and understanding regarding the Bedouins from a political lens in the context of the colonial history. The author in this book “The History and Politics of the Bedouin. Reimagining Nomadism in Modern Palestine” , written in 2018,has endeavored to explore and present the history behind the various forced impositions on the Middle Eastern populations by external powers. Previously it was witnessed that most of the narratives were actually presented by the Britishers at the time of colonialism and hence the overall narrative can be considered as rhetoric against the Bedouin which was according to the author, “rooted in the territoriality outlook on nomadism.”

The author draws upon the notion about how the European domination was very much morally justified by the facilitation provided by the representation of the colonial subjects, which is also known as the post-colonial theory. Considering this, the book is an overall critique on how power is witnessed to define the competency of a state, and also allows it to exclude and manipulate.

Themes in the Book

This book focuses on five main themes:

  1. The Ethnographic Legacy of Palestine Exploration Fund.
  2. The perception of Britain Towards Nomadism.
  3. The legacy of British Administration in the South of Palestine.
  4. The perceptions of Arabs towards Nomadism.
  5. How nomadism was portrayed by the Zionist.
The History and Politics of the Bedouin. Reimagining Nomadism in Modern Palestine


The book started off with a very crucial question which is regarding the dismissal of Bedouin land rights. According to the author “Why does Israel, which prides itself on its democratic character, continue to dismiss Bedouin land rights as ‘tribal invasions’ on state lands?” the research carried out by the author shows us that the Britishers actually represented the Arabs at the time of colonialism as nomads, therefore starting a major trend in forming identity which was coherent with the controversial Zionist vision of a barren land.

In this piece of literature, the author has successfully recovered the Bedouin narratives, and has also challenged the long prevailing colonial concepts. He has aimed to identify three primary issues which hinder or obstruct these narratives. The first one is that now after a significant amount of time the national consciousness of the Palestinians has strongly emerged. The second one that the focus is now on the Urban parts of Palestine which are known to marginalize the subaltern groups. And thirdly, the limited focus on the British rule in the region owing to the increasing number of studies on Zionism and Palestine.

The author has reminded us in the book that it is ineffective to build a linear historical classification of Nomadism while on the other hand he also creates a distinction for us to understand how these concepts have influenced the national as well as the colonial narratives. According to the author, the nomadism can be described as a shared legacy. He carefully analyses how both colonialism and national have equally played a role in the process which of “denial and invention, erasure and redemption, association and assimilation shaping colonial perceptions and attitudes towards nomadism.”

The author states in the book that the reason behind attribution of nomadism Bedouin was to merely serve the interests of the imperialists on the land of Palestine. The Britishers had an amazing plan by which they attributed and even racially categorized the people in Ottoman Palestine and calling them as Bedouin which were considered to be pure and separate from the “fellahin” but also deemed them as some type of invaders who made the land barren through nomadism. Hence, we can say that the misconceptions were intentionally created in line with the political aspirations of the British and has set the fundamental basis for a colonial domination to occur. The author then quotes a statement by Colonel F. R. Conder “the happiest future that could befall Palestine seems to me to be its occupation by some strong European power, which might recognise the value of [its] natural resources.”

Furthermore, the British regard the Bedouins of not having a national character as they are indulged in tribal loyalty and hence not able to integrate as a nation. However, all of these attributes of Bedouin must be understood in a colonial context and when the classification of the Bedouin is done as tribal, alien, or nomad to Palestine, the automatic exclusion from statehood takes place. The author clearly states that the idea of Britishers towards nomadism served their own purposes. This was also witnessed in the policy of the British to exclude the land ownership of the Bedouin and forcing their own system. The Britishers labelled the economic situation of the Bedouin as the primitive economy of poverty which is different and lower than the economics of a civilized or settled populations. Through such employment of superiority, the Britishers undermined the Palestinian national cause and the Bedouins were dissociated

Three principle characteristics were actually forced upon the Bedouin by the Britishers which considered them as a distinct race from other ethnic tribes on the land of Palestine and a foreign race. This was done through depicting the Bedouins as different conquering tribes and considering them as stateless as they had colonial designations of nomadism.

The History and Politics of the Bedouin. Reimagining Nomadism in Modern Palestine


In the conclusive analysis, we can say that while the Palestinians have made considerable efforts in including the Bedouin in the national struggle, and the elementary were the same in the British era when racial purity was ascribed to these Bedouins. The author then in the end traces the efforts made by the historian of Palestine, Aref Al-Aref, who acted against the British as well as the Zionist interests, and whose work. This British Mandated Historian has put forth a literature considered as a historical narrative which is witnessed to margins of political anthropology. However, the author states that Al-Aref had sought to overturn the Zionist and the British Parameters of exclusion by exhibiting the fact that Bedouin “were not outside history, but the agents of Arab return to history.” Hence, this detailed research of the author has raised massive awareness of the connection between Zionist perceptions and Imperial impositions, and how these have been able to shape the external opinions and narratives regarding the ideas of nomadism and Bedouins. The conclusion is that inventing the idea of nomadism was a political move which assisted the Zionist and British interests in prolonging their colonial dominance. Hence, this book is a must read and recommended to anyone wanting to understand the political invention of indigenous perceptions and narratives.  

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Hamza Yaqoob

Hamza Yaqoob is a Pakistani author and journalist. He is an IR Graduate with expertise in South China Sea affairs. He is the Editor-in-chief of Revelation World PK, and currently working as a Senior Technical Writer at a Real Estate firm in Islamabad.

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