West Bank Bedouin: ‘We live in fear’

Demolitions of Palestinian Bedouin homes are part of an Israeli push to make room for more West Bank settlements.

The Bedouin community Jabal Al Baba is located near the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim [Al Jazeera]

Jabal Al Baba, occupied West Bank – A pile of rubble – with metals rods protruding from the concrete slabs – is all that is left of Suleiman Kayed’s home here on a mountain named after Pope Paul VI, whose 1964 pilgrimage to Jerusalem prompted the late King Hussein of Jordan to gift the Vatican a plot of land.

In this Bedouin encampment amid the rocky foothills overlooking Ezarriyeh (Bethany), Mount Scopus, and the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Kayed’s cinderblock home was unlike many of the other makeshift structures made out of corrugated metal, wood and fabric.

With no time to salvage any of the furniture, Israeli authority bulldozers tore through Kayed’s house on March 12. The European Union-funded trailer home given to him in the aftermath was also dismantled and confiscated, leaving his family of ten twice displaced in less than one month.

“My eight children, my wife and I are now homeless,” said Kayed, better known as Abu Ghassan, who belongs to the Jahalin tribe, the biggest Bedouin community in the West Bank. Sitting in an airy tent used to host guests, the 54-year-old man said he was fearful the demolitions are part of an Israeli push to relocate his community, to make room for more settlements. 

“We are constantly living in fear,” Abu Ghassan said. “We can’t even go too far so our animals can graze because of the wall and the settlements.”

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Abu Ghassan, who lost his eyesight over time, was born in Jabal Al Baba, and remembers the area before Ma’ale Adumim – now the West Bank’s third-largest settlement – and the Israeli separation wall were built in 1975 and 2004 respectively.

The Jahalin tribesmen, Palestinian officials, and aid organisations, believe the recent increase in demolitions is a prelude to a broader bid to uproot the Bedouin and clear the area for further settlement expansion. In the Jabal Al Baba community alone, there are 18 Israeli demolition orders pending since February.

“The Jahalin tribe in particular, which live in what’s known as the ‘E1’ corridor, now pose an obstacle to Israeli plans to link Jerusalem with Ma’ale Adumim,” said Atallah Mazara’a, another member of the tribe.

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‘E1’ is a 12 square kilometre strip of land which connects the West Bank’s north to its south, and to Jerusalem. Once the Bedouin are removed, settlements could effectively encircle the Holy City, thus blocking attempts to have its eastern part become the capital of a future Palestinian state. 

As far back as 1999, Israel has had plans to develop the ‘E1’ corridor, but they suspended them mainly due to pressure from the Americans. Following a United Nations upgrade of the Palestinian Authority’s observer status to “non-member state” in 2012, Israel announced that the ‘E1’ plan would be reactivated.

Last year, the UN expressed concern about such plans. “If implemented, [they] will undermine Palestinian presence in the area, further disconnect East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and disrupt the territorial contiguity of the occupied territory,” the international body said in a report.

The Israeli prime minister’s office said the charges that the Bedouin were being moved to make room for settlements were “baseless,” and that Israel’s long-standing position remains “that the final status of the [Palestinian] territories will be determined as a result of negotiations.”

In the past, Israeli authorities have said Ma’ale Adumim is one of several West Bank settlements it intends to keep in any future deal with the Palestinians. They have also said that a contiguous Palestinian state can be ensured through a system of tunnels and roads that run through ‘E1.’

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said such demolitions, however, prove that Israel is not interested in a just solution to the conflict. “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government seeks not to achieve the two-state solution with all these [measures],” Erekat said. “[It seeks] the creation of one state, two systems.”

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Forty-one families or around 300 people live in Jabal Al Baba, making due with ramshackle structures, a few water cisterns and animal corrals. Eighty five percent of all West Bank Bedouin communities are refugees, and only about 50 percent of those are connected to a water network. None of them have access to electricity. 

That’s the case in Jabal Al Baba as well. Access to the community is only possible through a single narrow dirt road flanked by a lineup of abandoned cars and piles of scrap metal slated for wholesale.

The Palestinians of Jabal Al Baba – like most Jahalin Bedouin – were expelled from the Naqab (Negev) desert in 1948. Many made their way to the Jerusalem periphery in the 1950s where they settled and raised families. Most support themselves by animal husbandry. 

Eighteen of those Bedouin communities now live in the environs of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. They are located in what’s known as ‘Area C,’ which is under full Israeli control. At least five of the communities are located at the heart of land earmarked for the ‘E1’ settlement plan, according to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which handles negotiations with Israel.

All we see is attempts to displace us once more

by Atallah Mazara'a, Jahalin tribesman

Since the 1967 war, and with Israel’s designation of more West Bank land as ‘firing’ and ‘closed military’ zones, the Bedouin’s ability to move has been vastly restricted. In the last few years especially, the Bedouin’s predicament worsened as settlements mushroomed, and their access to Jerusalem – the main commercial hub for selling their diary and meat products – has been blocked.

Abu Ghassan, whose house was the area’s first to be destroyed since 1967, said the community started receiving demolition threats in the 1990s.

Between March and May 2014, five homes, three animal pens, a fodder storage tent were destroyed, while three donor-funded residential trailers were disassembled and seized. According to the UN, 50 people have been displaced since then.

Israeli authorities said the trailers were put up illegally and that the Bedouin can take measures to retrieve them from the Supervision Unit of the Civil Administration, the Israeli governing body in the West Bank.

“At least two of the [structures] are located on state lands and within the jurisdiction of the Ma’ale Adumim city,” said a spokesman for COGAT, an Israeli Defence Ministry unit, which encompasses the Civil Administration.

Some of Jahalin Bedouin have been evicted before. Between 1997 and 2007, more than 200 families from three rural communities were forcibly moved to an area close to the Jerusalem municipality garbage dump.

Even though the Bedouin were compensated, many fled because of health hazards and a lack of grazing areas, which forced them to sell their livestock.

“All we see is attempts to displace us once more,” Mazara’a said. “We just want to be allowed to stay on the land we were born on.”

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Source: Al Jazeera