History and Politics of Nomadism in Modern Palestine (1882-1948)
My research examines contending visions on nomadism in modern Palestine, with special focus on the British Mandate period. By nomadism I refer to a form of territorialist discourse, one which views tribal formations as the antipode of national and land rights, thus justifying the exteriority of nomadism to the state apparatus. Drawing on primary sources in Arabic and Hebrew, I show how local conceptions of nomadism have been reconstructed by an emerging class of Palestinian and Zionist nationalists into new legal taxonomies rooted in modern European theories and praxis. By undertaking a comparative approach, I maintain that the introduction of these taxonomies transformed not only local Palestinian perceptions of nomadism, but perceptions that characterized early Zionist literature. The purpose of my research is not to provide a legal framework for nomadism on the basis of these taxonomies. Quite the contrary, it is to show how nomadism, as a set of official narratives on the Bedouin of Palestine, failed to imagine nationhood, let alone statehood, beyond the single apparatus of settlement.Three major, intertwined questions run through this study. First, how British, Arab and Jewish perceptions of nomadism have been shaped within the matrix of power relations in Mandate Palestine, one which involved British colonialism, Palestinian nationalism and Labor Zionism. Second, how perceptions of nomadism have been constituted within a web of discursive strands, such as race, nationhood, statehood, autochthony, modernity, settlement, and land rights. Third, how nomadism as a discourse on the Bedouin of Palestine has emerged across fields as diverse as raciology (or scientific racism), ethnography, anthropology, political economy, legal theory, and climatic (declensionist) narratives on tribal invasions. What I am asking, in short, is: Can we treat nomadism as a field of historical inquiry, a formative discourse by which British officials, Zionist pioneers, and Arab nationalists imagined, managed and governed the Bedouin of Palestine?
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