Promotionsprogramm "Transformationsprozesse in Europäischen Gesellschaften"

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Shahar Shiloach, M.A.

2nd Year


Tel Aviv University (TAU)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Faculty of Social Sciences
Ramat-Aviv, 69978

Further Information

Dissertation Project

"The bed is too short to stretch out on"1 – The struggle over pasture lands in the Jordan Valley

In arid environments all over the world, shepherds must cope with dwindling grazing areas due to climate change and other anthropogenic reasons for land fragmentation. The Middle East is no exception. Shepherds in the Jordan Valley - غور الأردن struggle not only with rapid changes and shrinkage of their land, but also with the ability to hold on to their rights and work their land. Area C in the Jordan Valley is home to a population of about 8,000 Palestinians living in few dozen shepherds' communities. These people are forced to cope with threats to their livelihood on a daily basis, and they are at the core of my research.
The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), which this study focuses upon, has experienced unrest since the Six Day War of 1967. Starting in 2016, we have been witnessing a surge of newly established illegal (even according to Israeli right-wing standards) outposts; these are inhabited by ideological settlers who are often hostile to the Palestinian shepherds (PS). Some Jewish settlers have cattle or sheep herds of their own, and they use their livestock as a tool for taking over the land. With no governmental support due to their unique status as Palestinian civilians under Israeli (IDF) control, PS have been turning to Israeli left-wing activists for legal and humanitarian aid.
Pastoral livelihood is a classic topic in social anthropology, and therefore the literature in this area is vast. Numerous studies describing and theorizing about life in the physical, juridical and symbolic margins of the state - including pastoral communities – have also been elaborated upon. This research aspires to be part of the long tradition of pastoral anthropology. It not only expands upon the margins of the state perspective, but also offers a glimpse at the visual and material aspects of this domain. In this scenario, the struggle is formed by the land, and the land is formed by the struggle.
I combine theories of the margins of the state (Rabinowitz, 2001; Asad, 2004; Das, 2004; Poole, 2004), theories of activism and performance (Geertz, 1973; Goffman, 1989; Schechner, 2017), and the "anthropology of lines" (Ingold, 2010; 2015; 2016), together with analysis of the landscape as a text (Lefebvre, 1991; Duncan, 2005) to tell the story of the struggling marginalized community of PS as part of the physical environment.
One of the characteristics of the margins of the state is the illegibility of the law. In this ethnographic project, I demonstrate how their struggle is being written on the land and how legible it is.


Supervisor: Prof. Dan Rabinowitz


[1] Isaiah 28:20.