Insurgent Building: Emerging Spatial Politics in the Bedouin–State Conflict in Israel


  • The personal names of ordinary people who make an appearance in this article are pseudonyms, as are the names of minor localities, which in Arab-Bedouin culture generally refer to the name of an extended family in a specific locale. I thank Salim Al Turi, Cristina Papa and Yaakov Garb for their suggestions. I alone, however, am responsible for the contents of this article. The empirical part of this article has been presented at the workshop ‘Riots: Protest from the Margins or the Margins of Protest? Reconsidering Riots in the Mediterranean and Beyond’ at the Twelfth Mediterranean Research Meeting (European University Institute, Florence). The case study derives from ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in 2004 (MA, University of Perugia), 2006–07 (PhD fellowship, Universities of Siena, Perugia and Cagliari) and 2010–11 (postdoctoral fellowship, University of Perugia and Blaustein Institutes for Desert Environmental Research).


In the conflict between Bedouin representatives and government authorities in the southern Israeli Negev, the term ‘insurgent building’ refers to the construction of buildings erected in the full expectation that they will be demolished by the Israeli police shortly thereafter. This article analyses how insurgent building is employed as a spatial practice by emerging political actors to claim contested Bedouin landownership. Importantly, insurgent building relies on the ability of media and advocacy organizations to mobilize behind the issue. Most of the relevant scholarship takes the interpretative categories advanced by these actors at face value. Following anthropological debates regarding objectification and categorization, I examine the context of a specific case of insurgent building. Emerging political actors who employ insurgent building often rely on predefined ethnic categories and clear-cut people–state polarities. This case demonstrates the need for a more differentiated understanding of multilayered local dynamics than the one offered by mainstream linear interpretations. At a more abstract level, political actors contribute to the reproduction of the very categories against which they mobilize.