Climate change is increasingly considered a security problem by academics and politicians alike. Although research is challenging such neo-Malthusian views, it focuses on conflict, or lack thereof, paying limited attention, if any, to cooperation. This study examines the effect of a severe drought on a spectrum of both conflict and cooperation in a highly incendiary setting, between Muslim Bedouin herders and Jewish agricultural settlements in Israel's semi-arid northern Negev region. This region, lying between the Mediterranean zone and the Negev Desert, has historically been a battle ground between farmers and pastoralists.Using archival data, both conflictive and cooperative interactions between the two groups during the 1957–63 drought, the worst in the 20th century, were examined. The results indicate that although the entire range of responses occurred, violence was limited and occurred only when some of the Bedouins migrated to the more northern Mediterranean zone. In the semi-arid northern Negev the Bedouins and two settlements engaged in substantive cooperation and assistance. Grazing on damaged crops in return for payment was also practiced during the drought.A number of factors that affected both conflict and cooperation are identified. The severity of conflicts increased when farmers and herders lacked previous familiarity, while the need to reduce the drought's impacts and settlements' left-wing political affiliation formed main incentives for cooperation. Measures taken by state institutions to directly reduce frictions and to provide relief assistance were central to the overall limited level of conflict, but also reinforced the power disparities between the groups.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.