Desert Bloom, the second volume in Fazal Sheikh’s Erasure Trilogy, concerns the occupation and development of the northern Negev, a semi-arid area which, prior to the Arab–Israeli war of 1948, was populated by Palestinian–Bedouin, whose rights to cultivate the land and graze their livestock was recognized by both Ottoman and British authorities for hundreds of years. After the 1948 war, the Negev was declared part of the State of Israel. Bedouin communities were forcibly removed, and many fled to neighboring countries as their rights to land in the Negev were denied and their villages declared “unrecognized” or illegal. Those Bedouin who remained in Israel were re-settled into poorly planned urban townships in the north-eastern Negev. Others settled nearby in unrecognized villages, which were under permanent threat of destruction. Repeated attempts by Bedouin communities to reclaim their villages and former lands have been met with violent opposition by the Israeli Defense Force, which routinely destroys them.
In a grid of 83 detailed and annotated aerial photographs, Desert Bloom maps the geographical, historical, and political development of the northern Negev since 1948. Within these images can be seen traces of traditional Bedouin villages and sites of ancient Nabataean cities whose sophisticated irrigation systems enabled cultivation of the land in the Hellenistic period. Since 1948, the northern Negev has been the site for extensive industrial and military exploitation, the construction of new Israeli settlements which sprawl across the land, and modern irrigations systems, which attempt to fulfil the ambitions of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, to “make the desert bloom”.