Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
The Zionist “labor settlement” movement has had an ecological dimension from its beginnings in the early 20th century, when it began colonizing the fertile valleys and marshlands of central and northern Palestine. But following Israeli independence, as the movement’s cooperative settlements developed economically and received gifts of expropriated Palestinian land, most reneged on the movement’s commitment to “self-labor” as a means for gaining intimacy with the land as well as mastery over it. In the 1960’s, youth wishing to return to the movement’s pure ideological roots successfully lobbied the Israeli state to support their settlement in the Arabah, a hyper-arid zone near the Jordanian border and far from centers of population. For a generation, the settlers of the Arabah were able to make a living without depending on wage labor, exploiting the region’s high temperatures to produce vegetables for the protected local market with the support of state investment in irrigation and other infrastructure, justified by their national role. Following the neoliberal restructuring of the 1980s and Israel’s integration into global markets, state support dwindled, and these settlements resorted to intensification, crop specialization, and massive importation of migrant workers from Thailand. Today, farmers attempt to square ideology and practice by presenting “foreign labor” as the only economically and politically viable choice. Utilizing insights gained from participant observation as a farmworker, interviews and archival work, my presentation will untangle the relationship between labor regimes, ecological/economic niche-building and settler-colonial ideology in this remote and climactically extreme but transnationally connected agricultural enclave.