The Bedouin communities of Palestine have a rich cultural heritage linked to the semi-nomadic lifestyle that has historically defined their identity. This heritage includes a vivid oral tradition, pastoral and agricultural practices, food and drink, and traditional arts and handicrafts. This heritage is intertwined with that of their non-Bedouin Palestinian neighbours. Of particular importance to all of these practices is the centrality of the Bedouin’s relationship to the land and agriculture. with contemporary understandings of culture as the fourth pillar of sustainability, this heritage represents a valuable resource that has the potential to support Bedouin communities seeking to escape from poverty and resist exploitative economic structures.
This rich cultural heritage is at risk, however. The Israel-Palestine conflict has seriously impacted how Bedouins share their lived cultural heritage between generations and communities. The creation of Israeli closed military zones and the imposition of severe restrictions on movement between Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has threatened the existence of nomadic ways of life. Most of the 40,000 Bedouins in the oPt were displaced from the Negev Desert by the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. Today actions by the Israeli government, presented as security measures, relocate the Bedouin from areas in the West Bank, preventing them from engaging in traditional ways of living linked to the land.
Faced with stark economic hardship, many Bedouin work in factories – including in illegal settlements – which are often very badly paid and sometimes exploitative. But because they no longer work the land, as raising livestock, the Israeli government uses this as a reason to try and claim these areas. Within Palestinian society the Bedouin also find themselves marginalized, living in isolated areas, with little access to infrastructure, schools and hospitals(UNDP 2013).
Because of the way conflict affects geography and the economy Bedouin communities find themselves disconnected from one another, prevented from engaging in traditional cultural practices or from sharing this knowledge with future generations. Paying attention to cultural heritage protection has become a low priority for many Bedouin organisations when compared to pressing needs such as jobs, education, or legal protection. This project therefore aims to demonstrate the value of cultural heritage protection as an important potential resource to support social and economic life in these communities.