West Bank Bedouins resist forced relocation

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Some 12,000 Palestinian Bedouins living in West Bank communities around Jerusalem, Jericho and Ramallah are fighting against the prospect of eviction.

The communities have been settled in the area for decades after fleeing their ancestral lands in the Negev desert following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.

But these villages are not recognised by the Israeli Civil Administration, and have demolition orders pending.

Campaigners fear these plans will be stepped up in the coming months, after the Israeli authorities published plans to resettle the communities.

A primary school, built by an Italian NGO in the Jahalin Bedouin community in Khan al-Ahmar Area C, is one structure that is being scheduled for demolition.

Area C was created during the Oslo II accords. Constituting 60 per cent of the West Bank, it is under Israeli civil and military control.

The school is located in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Jericho, which has long been targeted for settler expansion.

Between 25 August and 9 September 2014, the Israeli authorities announced plans to relocate 23 communities to a new site in Nweima, on the Jericho periphery. The move could affect up to 12,000 people, including the five Jahalin communities living in Khan al-Ahmar.

In his wood and corrugated iron home, the local mokhtar (community leader), known as Abu Raed – shows Equal Times a document outlining plans for the relocation of his village. “[The civil administration] came here and handed it to us. We weren’t consulted. I said no even before looking at the plans,” he says.

“It says they want to modernise us, but Nweima would be like a prison for the Jahalin.”

Like other Bedouin tribes in this area, the Jahalin lead semi-nomadic lives.

Some young men are employed in the settlements that surround the village, whilst the majority lead a pastoral life.
Most family members, however, are based in permanent locations.

Approximately 40,000 Bedouins live in the West Bank.

In 2007, the Israeli government relocated 300 families living near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to a plot of confiscated land near Abu Dis, causing many of them to lose their livelihoods because living in Area C means they have limited access to health and education services.

Shlomo Lecker is an Israeli lawyer that has taken on their case. “We have two months to contest the plans on the basis that they were drawn up without consulting the communities in question. If that doesn’t work, we will appeal on the grounds that Nweima is unsuitable for them,” he says, citing the lack of grazing lands as one of the problems.


Geneva Convention

Most Bedouins in the Occupied West Bank are Palestine refugees and are registered with the UN refugee agency, UNRWA.

Along with 42 Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations, UNRWA have published a statement criticising the plans as amounting to mass forcible transfer, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“There are concerns that the planned population transfers will be implemented shortly after Israel’s final approval of the Nweima plans, and that pending demolition orders will be executed, destroying the homes and livelihoods of these communities,” said UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl in the statement, adding that by making way for settlement expansion, the E1 plans would further disconnect East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, making a two-state solution even less viable.

The Israeli military’s department responsible for civil affairs in the West Bank said in a written statement to Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the plans are “for the benefit of the area’s Bedouin population, [with the] purpose to enable the Bedouin to live in places with suitable infrastructure.”

However, according to UNRWA, it is not clear who will be responsible for building the said infrastructure.

The Palestinian Minister of Agriculture, Shawqi al-Ayasa, said the plans would have serious negative impacts on Palestinian society and would severely harm the Bedouin way of life.

Bimkom, an organisation that works with a rights-based approach to planning, had previously submitted several plans for the improvement of the communities’ living conditions, taking into account their specific needs. All of them were rejected.

The precarious situation of the Bedouins in the West Bank is a long-standing issue. In all, 46 Bedouin communities have been targeted for transfer to three different sites: Nweima, near Jericho; Jabal in the al-Eizariya periphery (near East Jerusalem); and Fasayil in the central Jordan Valley.

All sites are in Area C, located on declared ‘state land’. The Israeli Civil Administration is responsible for issuing planning and construction permits in Area C, and according to figures published by human rights organisation B’Tselem, from 2002 through 2010 only 176 of these were issued to Palestinians.

Settlements are also located in Area C, and at least 15,000 residential units were built during that same period, with or without permits.

The International Court of Justice and the Security Council consider settlements illegal under international law.

More figures published by B’Tselem show that from 2006 to the end of May 2014, at least 752 Palestinian unrecognised residential units were demolished in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem), causing 3,568 people – including at least 1,712 minors – to lose their homes.

According to analysis by the Association of International Development Agencies of data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 2014 saw a rise in demolitions of Bedouin homes and structures in the E1 area: 35 in the first 8 months compared to a total of 23 in 2014.

“When we built the school in 2009, many of our young people who helped build it lost their jobs in [the settlement of] Ma’ale Adumim as a result. The building is under demolition order. The school means we are here to stay, but they don’t want us to stay here forever,” says Abu Raed.