Palestinian Studies

2018 Workshop

Omar Imseeh Tesdell

Assistant Professor of Geography, Birzeit University

Territoriality and the Technics of Drylands in Palestine

At the turn of the twentieth century, agricultural experts in several countries assembled a new agro-scientific field: dryland farming. Their agricultural research practices concomitantly fashioned a new agroecological zone—the drylands—as the site of agronomic intervention. As part of this effort, American scientists worked in concert with colleagues around the world to investigate agricultural practices and crops in Palestine and neighboring regions, where nonirrigated or rainfed agriculture had long been practiced. In my manuscript project, I consider how the reorganization of vernacular rainfed farming practices into dryfarming science is central to the geography of both the Middle East and North America. I argue that this transformation was closely related to modern forms of power and territoriality. In contrast to a naturally occurring bioregion, I argue that the drylands was engineered through, rather than outside, the territorialization of modern power. 

In this paper I argue that rather than a self-evident bioregion or a mere instrument of modern power, the drylands are best understood as a field of action in which its inhabitants also participate. In order to illustrate this point, I consider two previously unexplored bodies of research from Palestine. First, I explore how everyday rainfed practices (or baʿlī farming) enable more viable agro-ecosystems. This is based on my long-term field research project in the central West Bank. In Palestine, what is called baʿlī in the vernacular is a mode of rain-fed farming and plant breeding without irrigation and is still practiced on the vast majority of agricultural land. Second, I consider the material links between farming practices and national consciousness by exploring work of Najīb Naṣṣār, an early twentieth century writer from Haifa who believed that modern dryland farming methods, particularly soil amendment and tree planting, would bolster the Palestinian link to the land. His activism around land struggles and his technical texts illustrate how this moment in Palestinian history both engaged contemporary scientific research and demanded to participate in the making of the modern drylands.

Omar Imseeh Tesdell is assistant professor of geography at Birzeit University. His research explores agro-ecological transformation in the Middle East and North America. More specifically, he is interested in the relationship between ecological change and built environment. He also leads a landscape agro-ecology research project, Makaneyyat, based in Palestine. His work has been published recently in Geoforum and Jerusalem Quarterly.