by Alistair George
13 December 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank
“From the 1970’s until today, the Israelis used to demolish our tents and houses but not to deport us” says Abu Hamis, a member of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe . “We used to rebuild our places but the new policy which they are adopting is that they want to not only demolish the houses, but to deport us from the area.”
Abu Hamis lives in the tinyvillageof Khan Al-Ahmar, located in the arid, rocky East Jerusalem periphery where steep mountain slopes plummet to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, considered illegal under international law, is visible on the hill above the village. The settlement is currently home to around 35,000 people; however,Israel has plans to expand it to create a city of 100,000.
This massive expansion will require the transfer of Arab Bedouin communities living in the area and is part of a wider plan – outlined to the UN by the Israeli authorities – to forcibly transfer all Bedouin communities from Area C, the 62% of land in the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control. The plan would involve transferring around 27,000 people and it could begin as soon as January 2012.
“This is a huge story” says Eyal Hareuveni, a researcher at Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. “Evacuating Area C for all the Bedouin communities actually means taking 20% or more of all the Palestinians that live in Area C and transferring them without their consent to another area. Legally, forced eviction is considered a grave violation of human rights, and there are some NGOs that are already calling it a war crime.”
A mass forcible eviction, which seems the most likely outcome of the plans of the Israeli authorities, would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions – which is a war crime, for which there is personal criminal liability.
There are also grave environmental concerns with the proposed relocation site for many of the Jahalin Bedouin communities, which is located next to a potentially highly toxic rubbish dump east of Jerusalem.
Furthermore, B’Tselem and the Bedouin communities of Area C claim that the plan to expand Ma’ale Adumim will sever the connection between the southern and the northern part of theWest Bank for Palestinians – effectively ending the possibility of a two-state solution.
The forced transfer of the Jahalin community
The 22 Bedouin families (160 inhabitants) of Khan Al-Ahmar have homes that are mostly shacks made from corrugated iron and wood, with metal fences holding livestock – the primary source of income for the village. The village had 1500 goats for over 10 years, but now they have 150. They have a single camel, when they once had thirty. The inhabitants are no longer allowed to work in the Israeli settlements as they once did. Two electricity lines pass nearby, but the village is not allowed to connect to these networks, so they have to use small diesel-powered generators. Unlike many of the Bedouin communities in the area, who have to import water in highly expensive containers, the village does have some running water.
The village’s existence is in stark contrast to Ma’ale Adumim which has swimming pools, libraries, a transport system, health facilities, shopping malls and subsidized water and electricity.
Demolition orders have been issued by the Israeli authorities for all of Khan Al-Ahmar’s structures, including the village’s school which serves five Bedouin communities in the area with 85 students.
Abu Hamis said that, “The most basic need for any human being is to have an education…after we built the school I invited the council of Ma’ale Adumim to the school in order to create some kind of cooperation between us and they came here and they showed us they are very happy that we have a school now. Three days later we received a demolition order and the excuse was that it’s a ‘danger for the settlement’.”
Nicola Harrison, from UNRWA (United Nations Relief Works Agency), says that the timeline of Israel’s Civil Administration’s plan is unclear, and they refuse to show the written plans to anyone outside of the Israeli authorities. “What’s very clear is that the civil administration has confirmed that they do plan to move the Area C population who do not have a building permit, and they are going to go ahead with identifying different locations throughout Area C,” she said. The plan would remove around 2,300 members of the Jahalin tribe in the area.
A previous expulsion of Bedouin communities by the Israeli authorities occurred in the 1990’s, after the Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993. However, Harrison said, “The 90’s was a compensation package after the forcible relocation, with bulldozers and multiple demolitions. This time they are very much trying to avoid the chaos of that, and they’re going to use much smaller drip-by-drip techniques to exhaust everyone into accepting the package so they don’t have to come with bulldozers. However, they have confirmed several times that, if the Bedouin refuse this ‘nice package,’ they will be demolished anyway and moved by force.”
According to Harrison, the relocation package is likely to include a plot of land, building permission, leaseholds and a certain amount of money, depending on the size of the family. Abu Hamis says that the plans would not leave them with enough land to graze their livestock and would endanger their traditional way of life. The area has been home to the Jahalin tribe since 1948, when they were forced to leave the Negev following the creation of Israel. There is no doubt that Khan Al-Ahmar badly needs development, but the school and the struggle to gain running water are examples of progress.
Israel’s Civil Administration have indicated that they will try to re-locate around 100 Bedouin families, comprising around 800 people, to a site next to Jerusalem’s primary rubbish dump, near Abu Dis and to the homes built for Jahalin people forcibly transferred by Israel in the 1990’s. The Jahalin communities, human rights organizations, and UNRWA are concerned that this site would endanger the health of the community.
According to Eyal Hareuveni, “The dumpsite was supposed to be closed in 2006, then 2007, 2010, 2011 and now it’s supposed to be closed down in 2012. 95% of the dumping is from Israel, the only reason they choose to dump here is that it is cheaper than dumping in Israel….This is the legal justification because the Palestinians are ‘enjoying it’ as well. According to the Israeli Ministry of the Environment, this is the worst dump that Israelis using.”
The site contains 7 million tonnes of waste and the Israeli authorities have failed to monitor the gases emitted from the site, so they have no way of knowing whether it is safe. The rubbish-choked valley is completely open for anyone to access; people from the nearby Bedouin community can be seen searching through the mounds of trash for valuable scrap metal.
The Israeli authorities plan to rehabilitate the rubbish site in order to forcibly re-locate Bedouins in Area C and house them there – however, the Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim municipalities and the Civil Administration have not yet agreed on a plan to rehabilitate the site.
Hareuveni says that relocating the Bedouins to the site of the rubbish dump is “typical of any plans that the civil administration has all over Area C…the main purpose of the civil administration is to limit the possibility of expansion for any Palestinian community. The plan for the dump site is another example of how they don’t care about the livelihoods of the Palestinians.”
He claims that the plans to remove Bedouins in other parts of Area C will inevitably produce more environmental problems.
In the Jordan Valley most of the areas were closed down for Palestinians because there were settlements or fire zones or nature reserves or even landmine fields. So there aren’t any places were the Bedouin communities can keep their traditional way of life or livelihood in the Jordan Valley and the issue of water is much more crucial there than it is here. Water has been taken by the settlements in theJordanValleyfor many years and there are established [Bedouin] communities in theJordanValleythat are losing their livelihood because of the lack of water or diminishing water resources.
Expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and the end of the two-state solution
“This is the most strategically important expansion of settlements in the West Bank. If this compound will be built, it’s most likely that the two state solution won’t be viable anymore” says Hureuveni.
The so-called E1 compound is the proposed site for the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim. Around 10 Bedouin communities reside within the compound and will be forced to make way for the planned expansion, including the village of Khan Al-Ahmar.
The E1 compound was annexed to Jerusalem municipality after the Oslo agreement in the beginning of the 1990’s. The Israelis plan to build 4000 houses here to expand Ma’ale Adumim; according to Hareuveni, the master plan for the expansion in E1 has already been passed by Israel’s Civil Administration. It only needs the approval of the Ministry of Defense.
The only road connecting the south of the West Bank to the north, that Palestinians are permitted to use, passes through the municipality of Ma’ale Adumim– it is also the only road Palestinians are allowed to use which passes through a settlement, as the road does not pass through a built-up part of the settlement.
According to Hareuveni, if the Bedouins are transferred from the area, and the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim is enacted, “it will seal East Jerusalem from the east and East Jerusalem will be disconnected from the West Bank because there will be no territorial contiguity between the north of the West Bank and the south part of the West bank. Any future Palestinian entity will be divided by a northern canton and a southern canton.”
It will also facilitate the breaking up of the Ramallah – East Jerusalem -Bethlehem economic link which comprises 35-40% of the Palestinian economy
There are currently no credible plans for an alternative road for Palestinians to use. Israel had begun to build part of a road that could eventually pass near Jerusalem but the project stalled in 2007. Hareuveni adds that there is another alternative, “but this seems like a fantasy – it is called ‘Road 80’ that is supposed to encircle all of Ma’ale Adumim block and connect them [Palestinians] back to Ramallah – but this is a huge engineering project that will cost billions of dollars, and there is no approval.”
Hareuveni says that when articles are published in the press, they usually only cover one part of the story, focusing on either the house demolitions, or the plan to move Bedouin communities to the rubbish site, or the plans to expand the E1 compound – with all issues covered in isolation. However, he insists that “all these [issues] are interrelated. They wouldn’t do anything with the Bedouin communities unless there was some wish to expand Ma’ale Adumim to E1, and they wouldn’t speak about transferring the Bedouin communities unless there was the option of expanding the Jahalin village near the dump site.”
As UNWRA and many human rights organizations claim, the forcible transfer of people under occupation is a grave breach of the Geneva Convention and a war crime with personal criminal liability for those in power. Furthermore, the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim will, in all likelihood, carve up the West Bank into unconnected northern and southern cantons, destroying any possibility of a future two-state solution.
It is under this threat that Abu Hamis of the Bedouin Khan Al-Ahmar village makes an appeal to mobilize forces.
“[We need to] put pressure on the Israelis to stop their plans,” said Abu Hamis. “We want to live in freedom, we want to live in dignity in our land here and we want our children to live in the best conditions without any problems or deportation…Next month, there is a real danger that we will be pushed from this area – we need all of you to be beside us.”
Alistair George is a volunteer with International Solidarity Movement (name has been changed).