West Bank Bedouins fear ‘a second nakba’

An Israeli plan to forcibly transfer Bedouins to nearby Palestinian villages has met with staunch resistance.

Bedouins on demolished home in Um Alkier
Palestinian Bedouins collect their possessions after their dwelling was demolished by Israeli security forces [EPA]

Abu Dis, occupied West Bank – In the middle of a small campsite consisting of two tin shacks, a group of men and women huddled around a fire burning in a barrel – oblivious to the gathering rainclouds and the Israeli military jeeps and soldiers surrounding the camp.

On the side of one of the shacks, the words “Bawabet al-Quds” – Gateway to Jerusalem – were spray-painted in big red and green letters.

The camp was located on a hillside next to the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, about four kilometres south of Jerusalem. It overlooked neighbouring Palestinian villages, as well as the red-roofed Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and a number of Bedouin communities of the Jahalin tribe.

Adel Salah, the mayor of Abu Dis, explained that the camp was established at the beginning of February after villagers noticed Israeli authorities preparing the area for the relocation of the nearby Bedouins.

“We are here in this land, which is private land. The soldiers try to move all the Bedouins to empty the lands for new settlements and put them on an area that belongs to Abu Dis,” said Salah, noting that the village has already lost much of its land to settlements and the Israeli-built fence and wall that surround Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“Now, they plan to move the Bedouins here, which is already crowded. We cannot even build for our own young people.”

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Around 2,300 members of the Jahalin Bedouins reside in the E1 (East-1), an area of approximately 12 square kilometres stretching from East Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim. As part of the so-called E1 Master Plan, Israel has been working on building a physical link between the two.

This includes the building of 3,000-4,000 settlement houses in-between, and the relocation of the Bedouin population to areas belonging to nearby Palestinian villages.

We protest to keep the land for the owners, against the forced transfer of people and against the settlements planned to be built here. But we also protest to have a state in the future, to move freely and to refuse the occupation

by Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a leader of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee in Bil'in

According to the Israeli Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (CoGAT), a plan is being drawn up to regulate the Bedouin community’s residence.

In an email to Al Jazeera, the spokeswoman’s office stated that the plan was made following meetings between representatives of the Bedouin community and of the Civil Administration – the branch of the Israeli army that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs.

But members of the Bedouin communities present at the protest said they have not had any say in the plans of the Israeli government, and had shown up to support the camp.

“It would be a second nakba for us to change land again,” said 40-year-old Atalla Jahalin, who comes from the village Jabal al Baba in E1, referring to the forced displacement of Palestinians after the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

At that time, most of the Jahalins lived around Bir al-Saba – today named Be’er Sheva – in the Negev desert of southern Israel. After 1948, they found safety in the area east of Jerusalem.

But during the 1990s, Israel forcibly expelled many Bedouin families living there to facilitate the growth of Ma’ale Adumim.

“It is worse now because this is the land of our Palestinian brothers. It is the land of Abu Dis and we don’t want to impose ourselves on their lands, which will create problems between us,” said Jahalin. “If they want us to relocate, then we prefer to move back to Bir al-Saba.”

The E1 plan has drawn international condemnation, including from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who stated that the proposed relocation of the more than 2,000 Bedouins, of whom two-thirds are children, would amount to forcible transfers and forced evictions, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The plan was frozen for several years following criticism from the US government and the European Union for separating the north and south of the West Bank. But following the Palestinian statehood bid in 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would promote the zoning plan of the contested area.

E1 is located in Area C, the portion of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. Israel has classified most of the area as “state land” though Palestinians say much of it is privately owned.

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At the campsite, a group of young men unloaded wooden beams from trucks and carried them to the camp. Within minutes, a small tent was erected and a man climbed to its top, covering it in green plastic and raising a Palestinian flag.

The work was guided by Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a leader of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee in the village of Bil’in, which has held weekly protests against the de facto annexation of land caused by Israel’s construction of the separation wall for the past 10 years.

Abu Rahmah said he had supported the Bawabet al-Quds protest from the beginning due to the particular importance of the area.

“We protest to keep the land for the owners, against the forced transfer of people and against the settlements planned to be built here. But we also protest to have a state in the future, to move freely and to refuse the occupation,” he said, emphasising that if the Israeli urban settlement ring around Jerusalem is completed and the West Bank were to be divided in two, the prospect of a future Palestinian state would be slim.

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The Bawabet al-Quds camp imitates previous protest tent camps in E1, as well as in other areas under full Israeli control, including Bab al-Shams and Ein Hijleh.

Israeli authorities did not allow either of them to exist for long, and the Bawabet Al Quds camp has also been demolished several times in its short life span – only to be rebuilt again.

Only a few hours after the green tent was erected, the Israeli military stormed the camp, dispersing the crowd using tear gas and sound grenades.

Clashes broke out between soldiers and young Palestinian men and boys in the outskirts of Abu Dis and the surrounding hillsides, while the tent and tin shacks were loaded onto Israeli trucks. Afterwards, a bulldozer flattened the area.

Down the slope from the protest camp, women and children living in a small Bedouin camp sought shelter from the tear gas.

Twenty-five-year-old Mahmoud Jahaleen had just returned from Bawabet al-Quds and shrugged when asked about the future of their homes.

“They moved us from the Negev and from the area around Ma’ale Adumim,” he said. “They will move us from here, and we don’t know where to.”

After ten demolitions, Israeli forces moved bulldozers into the site and made rebuilding impossible.

According to Thair Anis from the Jerusalem branch of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, committee members continue to protest daily at the site and go to pray there every Friday.

“We will continue,” Anis said. “The occupation make every place important for us as Palestinians. We must stay and face this project and make it end.”

Source: Al Jazeera