With more than 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins still at risk of forcible transfer from their villages, a newly released documentary sheds light on communities that thrive through resilience and hope.
In The Enclosure, Canadian filmmaker Simon Trepanier chronicles the daily life of Bedouins in five different communities throughout Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the occupied West Bank and is under full Israeli control.
The interactive web-based documentary, produced by Oxfam, seeks to “give a human face to the situation facing Bedouins in Area C” by letting them tell their own stories, Trepanier told Al Jazeera.
The film is divided into three parts, taking the viewer through a journey involving home demolitions, restrictions on movement and labour, and finally, relocation – realities that many Bedouin communities live through daily.
Palestinian Bedouins, who are traditionally nomadic and semi-nomadic herders, number more than 30,000 in 183 residential communities in Area C. The majority are refugees from the Negev region of southern Israel who resettled in the West Bank after being forced from their lands after 1948. Many of their villages are unrecognised and deemed illegal by Israel because they lack building permits.
Permits, however, are nearly impossible to obtain, putting villages in danger of demolition every day as Israel expands its illegal settlements in Area C. Israel has also denied the Bedouin community basic rights, such as water and electricity.
“We feel as though we’re standing on a volcano and we have no idea when it’s going to erupt,” said Eid Abu Khamis, the leader of the Khan Al-Ahmar Bedouin community.
The separation wall surrounding the occupied West Bank serves as the backdrop for the documentary, highlighting the physical barrier that restricts many Bedouins from travel. The wall, still under construction, runs for more than 700km, annexing Palestinian land.
“We wanted the viewer to feel enclosed in an area surrounded by walls, highways and settlements,” Trepanier said.
Bedouins often get surprise visits from the Israeli army, but life does not stop after the demolitions. Some villages have seen their structures destroyed more than 100 times, and they continue to rebuild.
“These demolitions are paving the way for displacement, settlement expansion and ultimately undermine the viability of a just and peaceful solution to the conflict,” Trepanier said.
Many Palestinians believe the demolitions and settlements aim to nullify the possibility of a future Palestinian state. Farmers and Bedouins who rely on their lands for income are hit the hardest, but many refuse to give up their traditional lifestyle.
“Even if we have to dig holes and live in them, we will stay in our land,” said Mahmoud Jirme, a school principal in Al-Kaabneh village, which has been targeted for demolition several times.
The traditional life of farming, herding and dairy production provides Bedouins with the income to buy water, a scarce resource in their communities.
Indeed, access to water and electricity poses the biggest problem for the survival of Bedouin villages. Water pipelines run directly under many Bedouin homes, but Israel prohibits residents from using them. Instead, Bedouins must buy their water from a vendor and store it in tanks, often spending more than they can afford.
In the West Bank community of Al-Auja, farmers struggle with a lack of access to water.
“It used to be paradise, and now it’s a desert,” resident Um Anas said. In stark contrast, rows of green palm trees fill the Israeli settlement adjacent to her community.
The film also acknowledges the psychological effects that demolitions have had on residents, especially children – everything from bed-wetting to regression in academic progress, according to a study by Doctors of the World.
For communities already relocated, such as Abu Dis, residents struggle to retain their Bedouin culture in urban areas that are often a fraction of their previous village’s size, sparking tension over the limited resources available.
Abu Ali longs to return to his Bedouin lifestyle, where he would “sleep under the stars” instead of a ceiling.
“We feel we are in a prison,” he said.