Gretel Ehrlich, in her splendid The Solace of Open Spaces, writes that “a person’s life is not a series of dramatic events for which he or she is applauded or exiled but a slow accumulation of days, seasons, years, fleshed out by the generational weight of one’s family and anchored by a land-bound sense of place.”
This brings to mind Israel’s Bedouins, a traditionally nomadic people once populating a vast desert terrain, whom T. E. Lawrence understood and celebrated. And they reciprocated.
In his own time, Lawrence lamented the increasing fate of urbanized Bedouins, their loss of place and a way of life: “The perfectly hopeless vulgarity of the half-Europeanised Arab is appalling. Better a thousand times the Arab untouched.”
Much of that traditional way of life is but memory, especially in Israel, where Jewish settlers in the Negev have frequently seized Bedouin lands and driven out their people.
A vivid example is Twayil Abu Jarwal, one of forty unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Lying north of Beersheba and off the beaten track, you’ll not find it on any map.
It has no permanent structures for its 450 inhabitants, housed in tents, and clinging stubbornly to place and a way of life.
The village and its fields have been bulldozed so many times that no definitive account exists, perhaps between 25-50 times.
Still they cling to what’s long been theirs for two millennia or more.
After each razing, they re-assess, restore their sheltering tents, and plant anew.
Ilan Yeshurun, who directs the local Israel Land Authority, interviewed in the Jerusalem Report, defends these demolitions: “This is not a village. It doesn’t exist on any map or in any legal registration. It’s only a village in the eyes of the Bedouin.”
Critics call it “urbicide,” an Israeli attempt to destroy perceived communities of potential Palestinian resistance. I think it more than that—a quest for expanding settler homesteads, akin to America’s violent history of seizure of Native American lands.
Meanwhile, some fifty illegal settler farms have sprung up and, politics as usual, nothing is done.
There are now just six Israeli authorized Bedouin villages. Presently, an extended Highway 6 thrusts its way into their traditional landscape, with Israeli plans to continue their policy of demolition and resettlement.
Understandably, Trayil Abu Jarwal villagers fear not only a loss of their land, but a way of life.
Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that “you can’t go home again,” meaning that time brings evolution and experience changes us, uprooting past constituents of our nurturing tied to place.
On the other hand, his dictum locates the modern tragedy of living in a mobile society. Home is an extension of ourselves, evoking sanctuary and fostering identity..
T. E. Lawrence had promised the Bedouins emancipation from the Ottomans Turks. But with takeover of Ottoman land by a modern Israel, they languish still, their cries unheard.