In an area of the world where religious and political tensions are high, the Negev desert serves as a relatively tame political domain. The majority of the debate surrounding the region revolve around the environment, vineyards, energy, and development, including housing, infrastructure, military, water resources, and business. The Israeli government technically controls this area, but the people who call the Negev their home, specifically the Bedouin, do not abide by the law as doctrine. The government, through a project called “Blueprint Negev” that is funded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), has been trying to attract 500,000 new Jewish residents to settle down in the desert (JNF.org)
Source: Miami’s Community Newspapers
This investment has naturally yielded a plethora of political backlash focused on environmental issues (Seidenberg). This highlights the underlying theme here that politics in the Negev desert are inextricably linked to the environment, whether it be development or preservation.
In order to fully understand the politics of the Negev, it is crucial to trace the struggle for rule that has defined its history. The nomads, such as the Bedouins, settled in the Negev as early as 5000 BC. While nomadic life still persists in this region, the land has been occupied and rule by several empires, including ancient Hebrew tribes, the Nabateans and Romans in the early centuries BC, the Byzantines in early centuries AD, the Islamic empire in the eighth century AD, and finally the Ottoman and British empires in modern times, which have given way Israeli rule. However, although the Israeli government setup developmental towns, such as Arad and Netivot, it is important to note that Jewish refugees absorbed much of the land in this region following World War II and has even become home to several bases for the Israeli Defense Forces (Finkelstein).
It would be remiss to exclude a discussion of the politics at play in Israel and the adjacent countries. However, the Negev largely separates itself from such dialogue simply because there is not a great deal that happens in the desert. The significance of the Negev resides in its historical and biblical ties. As a result, the great debate is which people is entitled to the Negev. Because all parties believe in their individual ownership beyond any reasoning, this is a debate that is unlikely to end. What seems more likely is that the Negev stay part of the nation of Israel, but the people who reside there live without consideration of who technically controls the land in which they inhabit.
“COMMUNITY BUILDING – OUR BLUEPRINT NEGEV STRATEGY.” Jewish National Fund, Jewish National Fund, www.jnf.org/menu-2/our-work/community-building/community-building—our-blueprint-negev-strategy.
“JNF Logo.” Miami’s Community Newspapers, 10 Feb. 2015, communitynewspapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jewish-national-fund.jpg.
Seidenberg, David, and Shir-Yaakov Feinstein-Feit. “An Open Letter to the Jewish National Fund.” NeoHasid.org | Devorah Brous’ Open Letter to the JNF, Neohasid.org, 7 Jan. 2006.
Finkelstein, Israel, and Avi Perevolotsky. “Processes of Sedentarization and Nomadization in the History of Sinai and the Negev”. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (279): 67–88. Aug. 1990.
“A View of the New Combined Military Training Bases in the Negev Desert, near Be’Er Sheva. The Vacated IDF Bases in the Central Region Will Be Earmarked for the General Housing Market.” Hamodia, 4 Jan. 2015, hamodia.com/2015/01/04/cabinet-approves-transfer-idf-bases-negev/.