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The Bedouins long history of demolitions and displacement

October 2, 2014 at 4:19 pm

A Palestinian Bedouin woman and her children sit next to the debris of her home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers [Nedal Eshtayah/Apaimages]

The Bedouin Jahalin Tribe had a historic existence roaming the expansive lands in the Naqab Desert which ended abruptly when the State of Israel was declared. Most joined the thousands of Palestinians fleeing, and the group was splintered and scattered.

Many of the Jahalin continued to herd their livestock between Ramallah, Wadi Qelt and Jerusalem until large swathes of land were confiscated to make way for mushrooming Israeli settlements following the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank. Some squeezed into the area off the Jerusalem-Jericho highway, which, after the Oslo Accords fell under complete Israeli military and administrative control. In order to expand the vast Ma’ale Adumim settlement, Israel razed some of the homes and packed their inhabitants away on trucks to live in containers beside a rubbish dump. The separation wall was then built severing the remaining community from East Jerusalem, the main market where they sold the milk and cheese made from their remaining livestock.

The semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin, hinged on land and livestock, has been continuously chipped away by Israel’s policy of demolitions and displacements. Now, sixty years after the Jahalin were first made refugees, they face being uprooted again as Israel advance plans to “relocate” 12, 500 Bedouins from where they reside in the Jerusalem periphery. The plan is reminiscent of the Prawer Plan, the bill approved by the Israeli Knesset in 2011 to relocate some 40,000 Bedouin-Palestinian citizens of Israel from ‘unrecognised villages‘ into townships which was eventually frozen following mass protests within Israel.

This time the Israeli administration has said they won’t put the Jahalin on trucks as they did during the mass eviction in 1997, but they would take immediate action to demolish their residences and agricultural buildings, “because there is an alternative here”. The alternative referred to is a purpose built township north of the West Bank city of Jericho, where they will be lumped with two other tribes- against Bedouin customs- each family allotted a housing plot and a small area unsuitable for the rearing of livestock. A total of 23 communities will be herded into the area.

Jameel Hamadin, a Bedouin facing eviction said: “These areas do not suit our lifestyle or our traditions or our culture.” He added in his address to the European Union: “If they deport us to the city, our lifestyle will end.” The communities previously evicted were housed in Al- Jabal village on expropriated Palestinian land. The United National Committee of Economic Social and Cultural Rights “deplored the manner” those relocated were “housed in steel container vans in a garbage dump in Abu Dis in Subhuman conditions”. Their traditional lifestyle was destroyed by the move.

Israel has justified its expulsion plan through the rhetoric of improving Bedouin living conditions by allowing them to live in places with “suitable infrastructure” and as an appropriate response to the “dynamic changes” that Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society “to a modern society that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trade and more”.

For the Bedouin, who claim they were not consulted about the plans, this is just another attempt to remove them from strategic land, one that they fear will destroy their traditional way of life for good. Abu Suleiman, head of the Jerusalem Bedouins’ Community Cooperative, asks “why do they not let us build here if they want to improve our living conditions”.

Residing in tin shack like structures perched on the unforgiving hillside terrain; many overlook the continuous construction in Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The homes in the settlement have running water, power, their occupants have access to medical services and top notch schools for their children. In contrast Israel does not allow the Bedouin community to gain access to running water and electricity, and prevents the building of permanent structures and even the tin shacks, which are no match for Israeli bulldozers, stand with the daily threat of demolition.

Under the contentious E1 plan the area of land that the Bedouin currently call home is to be turned into an urban block connecting Ma’ale Adumin and Jerusalem. The plan will divide the West Bank into two and in the process render the chances of a viable Palestinian state dead, and with it the future of a two state solution.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency has urged the plan to be halted, with Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General of UNRWA stating it: “gives rise to concerns that it amounts to a ‘forcible transfer’ in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He added: “The humanitarian impact of the planned transfer could be immense”.

This process is already in motion. According to analysis by the Association of International Development Agencies of data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the number of demolitions in the first eight months of 2014 was higher than in any comparable period in the last five years, as was the number of people who lost their homes as a result.

The Bedouin have a hard fight to remain on their land, a fight that has lasted decades long. For the traditional rural communities this is the next step in Israel’s long history of policies targeting their existence.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.