Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Sustainablity and Bedouin Culture
* Is it true that Bedouin culture "knows how to use and live in the Negev desert sustainably"?
When Israelis criticize the Bedouin on environmental terms, they are generally referring to desert "sprawl"—the tendency for Bedouin communities to spread out without any kind of planning.
While "desert sprawl" is seen as a problem by many people in the Israeli establishment, the problem with "Bedouin sprawl" is largely created by the refusal of Israel to recognize these villages, which has two important consequences:
1) there is no recognized local government in these villages (or right of these citizens to vote, derekh agav), and
2) there is no way to regulate, zone, or plan for growth.
But the government's preferred solution is to eradicate these communities, along with their traditions of animal husbandry, subsistence farming, baking pita in the hot sand, etc. It's an issue that can only be addressed by a "Greenprint Negev" that included the "unrecognized" villages as equal partners in planning.
The breakdown in Bedouin culture, created by forced relocations, crop eradications and enclosures, has been used as an excuse by some for forcing the Bedouin into the townships where their culture cannot exist in any meaningful sense, instead of being used as a reason to stop Israel's current policies. (The JNF-US's initial response to this campaign took a similar tack, though JNF has since withdrawn that letter.)
Organizations like Bustan are working to gather and focus Bedouin knowledge about living sustainably, e.g. by creating native medicinal research gardens, and Kibbutz Lotan has contributed to reinvigorating a sustainable culture by introducinhg straw bale building to replace corrugated metal shelters.
Combining Bedouin traditions with Israeli technologies (like solar power) and natural building techniques (like straw bale) would yield an incredibly powerful model for Negev development. The way to reach that is through cooperation, not cultural annihilation.
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006