Recognition of the Unrecognized: How International Legal Frameworks Can Support Unrecognized Indigenous Bedouin Peoples in the Negev

A blog post by Alexandra Tamburrino, Junior Associate.

At the forefront of global discussions revolving around climate change and human rights is the notion and importance of implementing indigenous knowledge and culture to solve the most pressing issues of our time.[1] Indigenous peoples hold a deep connection and relationship to the land and possess crucial knowledge on how to sustainably manage natural resources and act as caretakers and custodians of the land for future generations.[2] Unfortunately, indigenous peoples are some of the most vulnerable to environmental threats specifically due to their dependence on the natural environment, ultimately affecting their agency as a whole.[3] How can we utilize indigenous knowledge and culture if it is being destroyed by states that will not recognize it and by international regimes that do not protect it? And further, how can we support indigenous peoples and their right to a healthy environment as well as their right to hold a seat at the table when their colonizers will not grant them that right at a national level?

The Bedouin peoples, also referred to as Naqab (the Negev in Arabic) are a semi-nomadic community that throughout history has engaged in animal herding and grazing as well as agriculture as their source of livelihood.[4] Their semi-nomadic nature led them throughout North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan as they moved into the desert during the rainy winter season and back toward agricultural land during the dry summer months.[5] Because of their migratory lifestyle, as well as their use of the natural world, the Bedouin peoples have a deep cultural, historical, and spiritual connection to the land they live on.[6] Unfortunately, they are unrecognized by the state of Israel, which systematically attempt to bulldoze their homes and strip them of the land they are connected to.[7] Because of this refusal to recognize, the Bedouin peoples are unable to assert the protections afforded to indigenous groups under international law, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),[8] and lack status as a whole.

Claiming indigenous status holds political power for these communities; it allows them to assert a set of rights in the face of oppression, land grabbing, and systemic racism. This is all extremely important but is not enough. Therefore, the legal community, scholars, and advocates alike need to come together to afford stronger international protection to nationally unrecognized indigenous peoples and find innovative and effective ways to pressure governments to preserve their rights.




[1]Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change, UNESCO

[2] Indigenous Peoples, Amnesty International

[3] David A. Hunter et al., International Environmental Law and Policy, 1372 (Robert C. Clark et al. eds., 5th ed. 2015).

[4] Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples-Israel: Bedouin, Refworld (Aug. 2018)

[5] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Bedouin people, Brittanica

[6] Oren Yiftachel et al., Between rights and denials: Bedouin indigeneity in the Negev/Naqab, Sage J. (Jul, 20, 2016); see also Clinton Bailey & Avinoam Danin, Bedouin Plant Utilization in Sinai and the Negev, 35 Econ. Botany 145, 145 (1981) (describing how the Bedouin peoples have a deep connection to the land, specifically that they have learned to use desert vegetation for nutritional and medicinal purposes as well as incorporating qualities of plants into proverbial speech, celebrations, and events).

[7] Seth J. Frantzman, The Politization of History and the Negev Bedouin Land Claims: A Review Essay on Indigenous (In)justice, 19 Isr. Studies 48, 49 (2014); see also Reuters, Israel razes most of Palestinian Bedouin village in largest demolition in years, NBC News (Nov. 5 2020) (detailing a recent demolition of a Bedouin community in the West Bank).

[8] UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, A/Res/61/295 (Sep. 13, 2007).

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