Authorities give final approval for construction of 380 homes in two areas of occupied East Jerusalem.
Abu Nuwwar, occupied West Bank – The stone-covered hilltops of Abu Nuwwar village are dotted with makeshift homes cobbled together with scrap metal, concrete blocks and tarps. Despite living in this Bedouin village for decades, more than 100 local families’ homes are slated for demolition.
Earlier this month, Israeli authorities came to Abu Nuwwar and informed the 700-person Bedouin population, part of the Jahalin tribe, that they had until May 31 to register to be transferred to a nearby planned township – otherwise, Israel would send in bulldozers to flatten their homes and raze their lands.
Although Abu Nuwwar is only one of dozens of Bedouin communities in the E1 area – located in Area C, which refers to the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control – Palestinians fear that its depopulation could set a precedent and result in a domino effect.
Local community leader Daoud al-Jahalin, known to friends and family as Abu Emad, explained that this is the second time the tribe will face forced displacement. In 1951, three years after Israel’s establishment, they were transferred by Israeli military authorities to the West Bank from the Negev region of present-day southern Israel.
“All Palestinians have lived the Nakba,” he told Al Jazeera, using the Arabic word for “catastrophe”, which refers to Israel’s establishment and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their ancestral lands. “But Bedouin Palestinians live the Nakba every day.”
Abu Nuwwar’s geographic proximity has rendered it a vital strategic area to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Like more than 20 similar communities, the village is situated in the E1 area of the central West Bank, between Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim.
The United States opposes Israeli plans to settle E1, which have in the past complicated relations between US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
. All of us are against the Israeli plan to remove Palestinians in Area C and to divide the West Bank between the north and the south.”]
Between 2009 and 2014, Israeli settlements expanded by 23 percent in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Upwards of half a million Jewish Israelis already live in more than 150 Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Although settlements are considered illegal under international law, Netanyahu has – time and again – vowed to continue settlement expansion. In March, the day before Israelis re-elected him, Netanyahu promised to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state under his watch.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party swept the elections, and a new coalition has been formed with several smaller pro-settlement parties, including the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party and Kulanu, a new party founded by former Likud member Moshe Kahlon.
Palestinian political leaders and analysts say that displacing Palestinians from E1 and expanding Israeli settlements in the region will put the nail in the coffin of the two-state solution by creating a belt of settlements that severs the West Bank into two halves.
Israel’s newly appointed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is from the Jewish Home party, which supports unilaterally annexing Area C.
Zakaria Odeh, general director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, a group that monitors Israeli settlements and the forced displacement of Palestinians, says the Israeli settlement of E1 will kill the possibility of future negotiations towards a two-state solution.
“Until now, the Israelis have held off on building in E1 due to international pressure,” he told Al Jazeera. “The Americans didn’t want Israel to take action that could threaten negotiations. But with this new government, which consists of right-wing and extreme right-wing politicians, we expect the Israelis to move forward in this area and build in E1.”
Odeh added that Israeli designs to connect settlements to Jerusalem and create a “greater Jerusalem bloc” are nothing new, but that the plan is “unilateral and very dangerous”.
“Removing the Bedouins in that area is the starting place for implanting the settlement of E1,” he said.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) defended the decision to remove the Bedouin residents of Abu Nuwwar.
“The site has illegal structures, and an order for their destruction has been issued without a specific date being declared as an ultimatum,” the spokesperson told Al Jazeera, adding that Israeli authorities have “drafted a plan for organised housing for the Bedouin community currently living in the illegal structures, together with representatives of the Bedouin community”.
The relocation plan would move Abu Nuwwar’s residents to a planned township less than a kilometre away and provide them plots of land and services they have thus far been denied, including electricity, water, and a sewage system. Israel has appointed retired Brigadier General Dov Sedaka as a liaison for the local Bedouin population in the E1 area and will “conduct a direct dialogue with the population”, according to the COGAT spokesperson.
But Abu Emad dismisses the claim that Israeli authorities have worked with the local population. “We refuse any Israeli plan to move us to [a planned township],” he said. “All of us are against the Israeli plan to remove Palestinians in Area C and to divide the West Bank between the north and the south.”
Abu Emad says moving the Bedouins to a planned township would result in them living on a much smaller area of land and destroy their way of life. “Bedouins are to this land what fish are to the sea,” he said, explaining that the community is made of herders and shepherds who depend on the land to survive.
He also berated the Palestinian Authority for “not having a clear political position on Abu Nuwwar and the Jahalin Bedouin”.
There are only two acceptable solutions, Abu Emad added: “Let us return to our land in the Negev, or let us stay here. Those are the only options we accept. For now, our situation is very difficult.”
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