The bedouin village of Arab abu Farda and Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi live in the shadow of the Israeli settlement of Alfe Menashe.
by Jayyus team
The air is thick with the stench of garbage, animal waste, and dead animals. They are strewn around tent dwellings made of tarpaulins, plastic sheets and scraps of wood held together with rope and wire.
We are in the Bedouin villages of Arab abu Farda and Arab ar Ramadin al Janubi located in the Seam Zone (the area between the Green Line and the Separation Barrier) near Qalqiliya in the North West Bank.
Every two weeks we accompany the Mobile Clinic of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) on their bi- weekly health check- ups to these villages, where approximately 600 Bedouin men, women and children, of all ages, live in appalling conditions. There is no garbage collection or sewage system in the villages. The roads are dirt tracks. And there is no proper water or electricity supply.
On the hill above the villages is the settlement of Alfe Menashe. Started in 1983 on Palestinian land it is surrounded by the Separation Barrier which also encompasses the Bedouin villages and creates an enclave physically attached to Israel. Alfe Menashe settlement compares well with any upmarket estate or gated community in Europe or the USA, with wide tree lined streets, landscaped green areas – schools, swimming pools, excellent services and utilities. The population of Alfe Menashe is 8,500 and growing.
So what have these two communities got in common? At first one might be inclined to say absolutely nothing. Yet they do – and it is this: they are both like they are because of Israeli governmental policies, programs and laws.
Israeli settlements, which are illegal according to international law, are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government. The Bedouin villages, in turn, are not being recognized as villages by Israel. They are deprived of the right of free movement, the right to build any structure and the right to work in Israel. They are denied all of these rights even though they own the land that they live on, land which is less than 700 metres from the Alfe Menashe settlement which is built on land confiscated from Palestinian farmers.
Poverty isn’t the problem
One time we sat in the Bedouin community tent and drank sweet tea with some of the village elders and Suhad Hashem-Shrim from PMRS .
“Poverty is not the cause of the problems here – it is the result. Thsese people could get support from NGO’s and funding agencies and they are hard workers, but they are not allowed to build anything – not even an outdoor toilet – anything they build will be demolished – it’s these laws that keep them in theses conditions”, Hashem-Shrim told us.
One of the Bedouin village elders Abu Khamis told us his family were first displaced by the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 to the Negev, then in the 1950’s they were pushed out of Israel to the West Bank which was then under Jordanian rule.
Life was okay at first, they had lived a traditional Bedouin way of life, grazing their flocks in the valleys in winter and on the hill ranges in summer. All of this changed in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and the movement of the Bedouin was gradually restricted.
“The situation changed again for the worse when the Separation Barrier was built”, he added.
The UN reports that approximately 85% of the barrier route is within the West Bank and the International Court of Justice has released an advisory opinion declaring this route illegal. As it stands now the Bedouin of Arab Abu Farda and Arab Ar Ramadin Al Janubi find themselves in the shadow of Alfe Menashe on the Israel side of the Barrier separated from the Palestinian villages and other Bedouin communities in the West Bank.
Meanwhile Alfe Menashe continues to expand with plans to increase the current population from about 8,500 to 12,500. According to Suhad Hashem-Shrim there is no shortage of prospective settlers willing to move.
“Why would they not“, she says, “with the incentives they are offered, they can buy a house in the settlement with all services provided at half the cost of most Israeli cities – and still work in Tel Aviv and be there in half an hour.”
At the same time the people of Arab abu Farda and its neighbour Arab ar Ramadin, are trapped; they don’t have the rights of Israeli citizens and they can’t get services from Palestinian authorities either, because of the barrier. They can work on the Palestinian side of the barrier, but when they come back, they have to go through an Israeli security checkpoint, which controls their movement through the barrier.
This applies also to schoolchildren from these villages – and also to many other Palestinians. According to UN OCHA, in total, around 11,000 Palestinians living in the Seam Zone need a permit to live in their own homes.
Ambulance’s can’t get through
The problems of Bedouin villages are manifold.
“For example in Ramadin, only three food vans are allowed in weekly and only two taxis for transportation. They don’t even allow them to bury their dead in the villages”, says Suhad Hashem-Shrim.
The Children in these Bedouin villages suffer from a variety of poor health issues from skin infections, respiratory infections, and in the past dirty water has even caused hepatitis. For emergencies, the villagers have to be alert, because even ambulances don’t get through. The patient has to be brought to the checkpoint.
“When women here are about to give birth, most of them try to find a relative from towns close by and go there”, Hashem-Shrim says.
As we stood on the dirt track that’s called a “road” in the Bedouin village and looked up at the tree lined avenues of Alfe Menashe it was difficult to decide which crime that was happening here was worst– the theft of land to build settlements – Israeli policies which support the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank rendering any prospect of a Two State solution impossible – or the laws that deprive this indigenous community the bare necessities of life.
What do they see when they look down?
As the settlement of Alfe Menashe continues to expand with shops, clinics, sports and civic facilities, what is to become of the two Bedouin communities in the valley below – they have nowhere left to go.
As we walked back along the dirt track past a herd of cattle knee deep in muck and eating from a pile of sweet potatoes two Jewish Israeli men wearing yarmulkes came driving from the opposite direction – not what we expected to see in an Arab Bedouin village. We asked the Bedouin elder who explained they were Israeli Jews who came to buy a cow and slaughter it in one of the sheds according to kosher rules.
“They buy from us because it is cheap and we are happy they do – they are welcome here any time”, he says.
We wonder how do the settlers feel when they look down into the bedouin villages and see the conditions there. Maybe they don’t even see them – it’s easy to ignore the suffering of the poor when you are living the good life.