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A Tradition in Peril

The Pastoral Production Method among Bedouins and the Risks of Decline

By Ibrahim Al-Hathalin
Translated by Elias Khayyo

Palestinian desert dwellers who live in the West Bank in the areas west of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley (the Jerusalem desert) follow an ancient way of life that over the centuries has adapted successfully to various developments and changes. Since the Zionists occupied Palestine in 1948, however, the Bedouin lifestyle has been in decline for various reasons, while the occupation has strongly impacted the economic life of Bedouins. Their main source of income stems from raising livestock and pastoral production. But for the past decades, this source of income has been in peril.

The rising cost and increasing difficulty of feeding their animals constitutes a burden not only for Bedouins but also for livestock breeders in general and is causing them to slowly abandon this traditional means of livelihood as time passes. Most pressing is the fact that the Israeli army prevents Bedouins from grazing their flocks in vast areas of the Jordan Valley and the southern West Bank. The Israeli authorities use the pretense that those areas are required to train their soldiers, and thus they designate vast stretches of land as firing zones.

Another factor is the seizure of thousands of dunums of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers. Moreover, a small group of settlers imitate Palestinian Bedouins by launching pastoral settlements and raising livestock themselves. They are adopting the same lifestyle as Palestinian Bedouins or shepherds in general, erecting stockyards and tents and buying livestock. They then chase after Palestinian shepherds to seize their land and prohibit them from entering it by the force of their firearms. Such activities occur in full view of the Israeli army and police, and the latter provide protection for the settlers – and even attack the Palestinians.

In addition, the declining rate of rainfall in the eastern and southern areas of the West Bank over the last three decades has increased the rate of desertification and caused a significant and critical decrease in grazing grounds. An excessive increase in feed prices over the past years has furthermore directly caused a decrease in the number of livestock herds in these areas, and the spread of infectious diseases such as hoof-and-mouth disease and the plague has caused the death of many newborns.

Given that the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis, several serious attempts have been made to shift the culture of primitive shepherding to more contemporary methods. The Palestine Bedouin Fodder Company was founded to establish mills and provide stockyards for Palestinian Bedouin and farmer shepherds to allow them to produce and store fodder and potentially purchase it when it is more affordable. However, this experience was unsuccessful due to the lack of serious follow-up by the Palestinian authorities and insufficient know-how among Palestinian Bedouins and farmer shepherds.

What is needed is a comprehensive plan to support Palestinian Bedouin shepherds, enabling them to continue to raise livestock on a commercially feasible scale that supports their livelihoods.

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