/ 9 December 2011

Israel moves West Bank Bedouins

About 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be forcibly relocated from the land on which they have lived for 60 years under an Israeli plan to expand a huge Jewish settlement.

The removal of about 2 300 members of the bedouin Jahalin tribe, two-thirds of whom are children, is due to begin next month. The Israeli authorities plan to relocate the families from the West Bank to a site close to a municipal rubbish dump on the edge of Jerusalem.

The Bedouin say the move would expose them to health hazards, deny them access to land to graze their livestock and endanger their traditional lifestyle. They add that the viability of their existing communities has been seriously eroded by the growth of Jewish settlements, the creation of military zones, demolition of homes and animal pens and the building of a highway that cuts through their encampments.

“Because of the [military] closures and the settlements, we are living in a jail that gets smaller every year,” said Eid Hamis Swelem Jahalin (46), who was born in the encampment of Khan al-Ahmar and has lived there almost all his life.

The relocation plan is the first phase of a longer-term programme to remove about 27 000 Bedouin Arabs from Area C, the 62% of the West Bank under Israeli military control. The communities have not been formally notified of the plan, which was disclosed to a United Nations agency by Israel’s civil administration, the military body governing Area C.

The head of the civilian administration visited Khan al-Ahmar three weeks ago to give verbal warning of the impending removal, said Hamis. “He said the land belonged to the government, that we are illegally here. I told him that I lived here before 1967, before you even came to our land.”

The tiny communities perched on the bleak rocky hills that roll down towards the Dead Sea endure a harsh existence without electricity, running water, sanitation, paved roads or medical facilities. The Bedouin homes are makeshift structures of wood, corrugated iron and tarpaulin.

The nearby Jewish settlements, in contrast, are connected to utilities and services. Ma’ale Adumim, home to almost 40 000 people and which overlooks the Jahalin communities, has 21 schools, 80 kindergartens, a public transport network, libraries, swimming pools and shopping malls.

The area on which the Jahalin live has been designated by Israel for the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim. Many Palestinians see this as part of a strategic plan to close a ring of Jewish settlements that would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. By stretching down to the Jordan valley, an expanded Ma’ale Adumim would also bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

“They want to empty the Bedouin from the whole area. They will put settlers in our place and there will be no Palestinian state,” said Hamis.

All Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. The Jahalin were originally from the Negev desert, from which they fled or were forced out following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Now the extended tribe is scattered across the West Bank. Those threatened with relocation say they rent the land from its Palestinian owners, who live in the nearby village of Anata. But the Israeli authorities say the land now belongs to the state and their homes, animal pens and small schools are built without permission — which is practically impossible to obtain — and are therefore subject to demolition.

All 257 Jahalin families in the five villages straddling the Jerusalem-Dead Sea highway, have been issued with demolition orders.

A school serving their children, built two and a half years ago from old car tyres and mud, is also threatened following pressure from nearby settlers.

“Since the beginning, they wanted to move us from here, but building the school made it worse,” said Hamis, pointing out that the settlers saw it as a sign of permanence.

The removal plans are not final, according to the civil administration, whose spokesman has been quoted as saying the Israeli authorities are trying to find an acceptable solution for the Bedouin whose communities are “illegally located”.

The proposed relocation site is already home to about 4 000 Jahalin who were evicted from their encampments in the mid-1990s.

According to the UN, the site “does not meet minimum standards in terms of distance from the municipal dumping grounds. Previously ­relocated families report negative consequences, including health concerns, loss of livelihood, deteriorated living conditions, loss of tribal cohesion and erosion of traditional lifestyle.” —