British Environmental Orientalism and the Palestinian Goat, 1917-1948

British colonial understanding of arid Mediterranean environments was characterised by the idea of degradation: these environments were seen as an aberration from the ‹norm› of the lush and fertile British forests and grasslands. The struggle against desertification was central to British efforts to model the people and environments of their colonies according to their own ideals. The goat played an important role in the British understanding of arid landscapes as degraded, desertified and generally ‹lacking›, as it became the ultimate symbol for destruction. Nomadic goat-herding, a practice with hundreds of years of history, was singled out as the most destructive form of land use. Connected to the negative image of the goat was the stereotypical image of its owner: nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyles were deemed not only unproductive but outright reckless. Sedentarisation of the nomad was one of the main goals of British colonisers as a form of population control and maintenance of colonial power. This paper examines the British colonial belief in Ruined Landscape Theory as applied to arid Mediterranean environments and tries to uncover the goat’s role in British environmental orientalism, focusing on Palestine during the British Mandate period, ca. 1917-1948.

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