Final destination

After decades of persecution, the Palestinian Bedouins now face a threat of forcible transfer to urban townships. Six township plans laid by the Israeli Authorities have provoked severe opposition from the Bedouins – some of them victims of displacement since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

by Lea, Jordan Valley team

photo of Selim Auda Jahaleen

Selim Auda Jahaleen is 107 years old. A Palestinian Bedouin, he is the oldest member of the Jahaleen tribe. Photo EAPPI/BG. Saltnes.

Selim was born in 1907 in Saba, in the Negev desert, what is now the south of Israel. He lived his childhood under the Ottoman rule of Palestine, his youth under the British Mandate. As a young man he saw the rise of zionism and waves of persecuted Jews fleeing to Palestine. In his prime he became a refugee himself when the state of Israel was established. During the 1948 war he, like many other Palestinian Bedouins, was forced to leave his land in the Negev. He escaped to the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule. In 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank and Selim became a subject to Israeli military rule. During his 66 years in the West Bank he has witnessed several wars, uprisings, peace treaties, processes and negotiations.

Now he lives with the family of his oldest son, Mohammed, in a shack made of tin, iron poles and tarpaulin, in the desert near Jerusalem. The family of 14 gets their living from herding their flock of sheep and goats. To the wider public the hilly desert plains they and their relatives live in are known as E1, named after one of Israel’s most ambitious plans of settlement expansion. Approved by the Israeli authorities in 1999, but halted due the international pressure, the E1 plan would link the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem and create a wider settlement block by connecting it with settlements of Mishor Adumim and Kfar Adumim through a series of roads and housing initiatives.

Today, Ma’ale Adumim houses over 36,000 Israeli settlers. Its Israeli approved municipal boundaries cover 48,000 dunams (48 km2 or 18.53 square miles), all of which are within the internationally recognized 1967 borders of the occupied Palestinian territory. The E1 master plan would allow for Israeli development on 12,000 dunams (12 km2 or 4.63 square miles).

The international pressure may have halted the E1 plan but clearing off the Palestinian population from the E1 area continues. This year 39 homes and livelihood structures were destroyed in demolitions carried out by the Israeli authorities. Selim’s family has had their homes demolished four times during the past two years. The latest demolition took place last month.

“When the soldiers came to destroy our home Selim tried to fight them,” his daughter in law, Salma, says.

“Where are we supposed to go?” he yelled at them.

Now the patriarch looks more docile, relaxing on a mattress with a lit cigarette in one hand while casually caressing some of his grandchildren, who all huddle around him, with the other.

The Israeli authorities have come up with an answer to Selim’s question. In August this year, six municipal plans for as many as 7000 Bedouins to be relocated to planned townships were published. Largest of them is Nuwei’ma, a Palestinian village located just outside Jericho and surrounded by settlements and Israeli military bases. According to the plan three Palestinian Bedouin tribes: Ka’abne, Rasheideh and Jahaleen, Selim’s tribe, will be moved to Nuwei’ma.

Most Bedouins are against the plan. Selim’s son Mohammed is one of them.

“Who will give us money and take care of our livelihoods when we lose the income we produce from our sheep?” he asks.

According to Nuwei’ma plan, the area given for each family would be 500 m2.

“Here we have a lot of space to herd our cattle. There herding will be impossible,” he says.

“Israel must let us stay here or let us go back to Negev, back to where we are from,” Mohammed says.

The township plan also goes against Bedouin cultural customs.

“The Bedouin tribes don’t reside close to one another,” Mohammed explains. “There will be a lot of internal fights if we all will be moved to Nuwei’ma.”

The realization of the township plans would mean putting and end to the traditional Bedouin culture in the Palestinian territories.

If implemented, the six plans plans will lead to a situation of individual and mass forcible transfers. They are prohibited by the 4th  Geneva Convention, regardless of the motive. A violation of this nature may be considered a grave breach of Article 49, giving rise to individual criminal liability and codified as a war crime.

*More photos & stats on the Nuweimah plans.

Bedouins forced to choose education over work

During the last week, illegal Israeli settlements and the BDS movement against Israel have become one of the hottest topics across the world thanks to the viral outbreak of Scarlett Johansson and her promotion of the SodaStream brand. The SodaStream factory is located in the industrial park Mishor Adummim, which is part of the larger settlement of Ma’ale Adummim. Beside the some 500 Palestinians working in the SodaStream factory there are in addition many Bedouins working for various Israeli factories and settlements across the West Bank. EAs visited a Bedouin community, Khan al Ahmar-Wadi Abu Sidr, where the men have lost their work in the Ma’ale Adummim area after refusing to demolish their local school.

by Jerusalem Team 51

Eid Jahalin. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Eid Jahalin. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Behind a busy new highway between Jerusalem and Jericho lies the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar – Wadi Abu Sidr which is home to 24 families, around 150 people. Originally refugees from the Negev desert, in 1951  they were forced to leave by the Israeli government and remain refugees until this day. All of the Bedouin from this community were born in the area where they now reside, except for one grandmother.

Bedouins are the poorest amongst the poor in the West Bank. Now bedouin villagers get most of their food from the United Nations.

“Life was easier for us till the 1980’s, but then the settlement of Kfar Adumim was built and our incomes came down”, Nasser Jahalin, one of the bedouin in his 50’s tells us.

Previously the Bedouins could sell animal products made from their sheep in Jerusalem and throughout the country. They used to take over 400 sheep to herd on the top of a high hill in front of their village, with a water source and lots of grass. Now, settlement houses cover that same green hill and private security forces patrol it. If animals get too close, settlers steal them.

Some 500 metres in the other direction there is a closed military area. There is a danger from unexploded bombs and additionally, army custody of their animals who graze too close to the area. Bedouins can only retrieve their property after paying a large fine.

In the daytime, around 3 o’clock, armed settlers from Kfar Adumim may come close to the village to threaten Bedouin families or to steal their animals. Eid Jahalin a 49-year-old leader of the community used to work construction in the very same settlement for 15 years.

Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals worked together to build the Tyre school in Khan Al Ahmar. After building, most men in the village lost their jobs in nearby settlements and factories. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals worked together to build the Tyre school in Khan Al Ahmar. After building, most men in the village lost their jobs in nearby settlements and factories. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

According to Eid Jahalin, everything changed for the Bedouin when they decided to build a school for their children in 2009. After building the school, all the  men lost their work in Israeli settlements and factories. Before the school Nasser Jahaleen worked for the Israelis for years, but like others, he lost his work. Nowadays, only two out of about 50 men from the village have work in Ma’ale Adummim.

Nasser Jahalin went on to say, “You get a  much better salary from Israeli employers than from the Palestinians. It is almost the same not to work if you travel to work in Jericho. From a very low salary you have to pay your travel and food of the day, and after that there’s not much left.”

Eid continues, after building the school, threats against the villagers increased . During night when the villagers are about to go to sleep,  Israeli military or civil police frequently enter the community for house searches, forcing people out from their homes. During the last week the  Israeli authorities entered the village on four different nights.

Each home in Al Khan Ahmar – Wadi Abu Sidr has a demolition order. According to Amnesty International, the Israeli army plans to evict and transfer 2300 Palestinian people from the Ma’ale Adummim area to the  Jerusalem municipal garbage landfill to make space for settlement expansion.

Ma’ale Adummim is located in what is known as Area C, which includes the E1 plan to build thousands of new settlements and commercial units in its expansion to connect the area with Jerusalem. It is planned that the whole area of Ma’ale Adummim and Mishor Adumim is to be surrounded completely by the separation barrier already under construction.

Eid Jahalin urges international companionship.

“We need all our  international contacts to support us or otherwise our village and our lives might get lost, international people are are our voice in the world”.

Burdened smiles

by Luther and Esther, Bethlehem team

Dawn broke as the little children of Tuqu’ village—their backpacks a little too big for them—made their way to the first day of classes for the new school year. Their faces lit up when they saw the EAs, smiling and greeting them good morning. “What’s your name?” some of them asked, laughing and giggling. The children were at their best being what they are—children, quite unmindful of the troubles of their land.

Schoolchildren from Tuqu'. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Schoolchildren from Tuqu’. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

As class time approached, the six- to fourteen-year-olds silently passed the two heavily armed soldiers in front of the school—the reason for the EAs’ presence. The two young men in uniforms, armed with rifles and binoculars, were there for the security of the State of Israel.

Just a few kilometers away, school was also beginning, but trouble was brewing. That afternoon, a number of young residents at the ‘Ayda Refugee Camp joined a demonstration about the recent deaths of three Palestinians in Qalandiya at the hands of the Israeli military. Eventually, stones were thrown as a manifestation of the anger and frustration of a young generation. The soldiers responded with a resolute clampdown on the stone-throwers, some of them as young as 11. The Israeli army fired teargas and stun grenades in an attempt to defuse the spontaneous outburst of emotion.

Youth at 'Ayda Camp during an encounter with the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Youth at ‘Ayda Camp during an encounter with the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

A teargas canister hit one 11-year-old boy on his forehead. Two ambulances also entered the camp, a sign that some had been seriously injured. This is a far cry from the picture of happy school children the EAs saw earlier that day. In the encounter with the Israeli military, the Palestinian youth of ‘Ayda Camp were forced to confront a reality that has no place for something as trivial as homework.

To the northeast, in Khan al Ahmar in East Jerusalem, again, we see a completely different picture. Israeli settlements close off a Bedouin encampment in the Judean desert from the rest of society. The Israeli government’s restrictions on the Bedouins – severe restrictions on running water or electricity and prevention of constructing new buildings – force the Bedouin to live in grinding poverty.

Bedouin child at Khan al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Bedouin child at Khan al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

There is a school in the encampment, signifying that the Bedouins place a value on education—but even that is denied to them. The Israeli government has issued demolition and stop work orders making it virtually impossible for the Bedouin to set up the necessary infrastructure for a functioning education system.

These different pictures of schoolchildren show the various ways the Israeli occupation shapes and limits the daily lives and future prospects of the people of Palestine, particularly the youth. Nevertheless, the smiles of Palestinian children not only reflect a temporary respite from their country’s predicament, but also a future for a troubled land. The laughter that has not yet died in their hearts echoes the same hope, the same innocence, the same enjoyment of life every child possesses, whether in Palestine, in Israel, or in any other part of the world.