By EAs Emily and Johanna,
“We didn’t have time to pack everything; lots of our things were destroyed that day in front of my eyes…along with the house”. Maryam, a bright young bedouin woman, animatedly recalled the stormy February day in 1997 when her home was demolished and entire community uprooted by the Israeli forces . That was when she and her eight siblings were forcibly transported, along with a small container full of their possessions, to al-Jabal, where they were left homeless. She has lived there ever since, in what has now evolved into a township.
Maryam’s was one of 10 communities forcibly transferred by the Israeli authorities in 1997 to make way for the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim, which, like all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, is illegal under international law. Forcible transfer by an occupying power of those under their protection is also prohibited, under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered a grave breach of international law.  This transfer led to the destruction of the traditional Bedouin way of life. When we ask about her childhood, Maryam’s eyes light up. She sums up the essence of Bedouin life as “natural and simple”; living off the land, being out in the open, moving seasonally.
The Bedouin’s transfer from lands where they lived and grazed livestock, not only led to the loss of their traditional economy as near-self-sufficient but also their entire social fabric. “We’re not used to having boundaries and divisions between us” said Maryam, referring to the shift from sharing communal life outdoors to having separate houses: “it has closed down our society”. Maryam also explained that the houses and township were very small and offered no room for expansion when their children grow up and get married because Israel will not grant permits to build in that area. “It is like a prison for us”, she said. The loss of traditional economy resulted in a loss of social positions. Women, for example had traditionally been in charge of making and trading dairy products, but they cannot raise livestock in the townships. The complete breakdown of social fabric resulted in increased unemployment, drug abuse and domestic violence. .
Bedouin communities are generally very traditional and patriarchal but in their natural way of life, women have key roles. Not only would they would take charge of dairy produce, they would also bake the bread and produce herbal remedies. Furthermore, the outdoor lifestyle afforded women independence without breaching social codes of conduct. This sense of purpose and freedom has been lost in the new townships. Traditional values forbid women from going out alone, and shop-bought goods have replaced homemade produce.
While the communities in al-Jabal have experienced this breakdown, the lands in which they once lived were designated for the expansion of the illegal Ma’ale Adumim settlement. An UNRWA representative told us that “It is very clear that Bedouins are displaced for settlement expansion”. And Al Jabal is only a small part of a much wider plan for the entire Bedouin community across the West Bank. What Israel is calling the “Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement” is in fact the transfer of 46-50 traditional communities to similar townships with basic infrastructure.
In addition to the damage this causes to the communities’ way of life, the lands referred to as E1 pose a particular concern. Currently inhabited by Bedouin communities, E1 is the last stretch of land that links Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank; without it there could be no contiguous Palestinian state. Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem states that settlement expansion in E1 would: “exacerbate the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and disrupt the territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.” For this reason, a UN official described the Bedouins to us as “the human face of the two-state solution”.
A majority of the Bedouin communities live in Israeli-controlled Area C. Their culture and lifestyle is already under threat due to the many restrictions imposed under Israel’s military occupation. Movement is restricted by the dividing barrier and rigid permit regime. Israel’s planning policy rarely permits expansion and frequently demolishes Bedouin structures. Settlement expansion and the demarcation of land as military zones diminishes the land Bedouins can access and subjects them to aggression from ideological settlers. Israel’s plan is so far only on paper. The UN official we met with believes it can be stopped and informed us that UNRWA are working to challenge it. The only thing standing in the way of the forcible transfer of these communities at present is the international community.
Meanwhile, Maryam says she is trying to change her society with small steps. With her father’s encouragement, she went to university and supported her sister to do the same. Perhaps her biggest impact, though, is on the children around her. Her niece, Tasneem tells us: “Boys can do anything and girls can’t do anything, I have to change that!”.
Please take action today to halt the Government of Israel’s (GoI’s) relocation plan and the forced displacement of Bedouins from the central West Bank.
- Share this story and update media agencies in your country about the Government of Israel’s plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouins, like Maryam, out of their communities in the central part of the occupied West Bank and into a designated townships.
- Contact your elected representatives and your foreign minister and ask them to raise this issue with the Government of Israel to express (your countries) condemnation of the relocation plan.
- Ask your country’s diplomatic representatives to urge the GoI to freeze all pending demolition orders against Bedouin communities in East Jerusalem and the Central West Bank and call on them to condemn these potential breaches of international law.
OCHA fact sheet : Bedouin Communities at Risk of Forcible Transfer, September 2014
UN Officials: Israel must halt plans to transfer Palestinian Bedouins, May 2015