2,600 Bedouins threatened with displacement as Israeli settlements expand

Women sort through rubble of destroyed homes

Women sort through their belongings three days after Israeli forces demolished several homes in Anata, 26 January 2012.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

The “E1” area of the West Bank, comprising 12 square kilometers, lies between the Maale Adumim settlement and occupied East Jerusalem, curling around and separating the Palestinian towns of Anata and Abu Dis. While E1 is home to roughly 2,600 Bedouins, Israel has prevented any Palestinian development there so that Maale Adumim might expand and new settlements can go up.

Though the settlement development project was temporarily postponed in 2008 due to disapproval from the United States, Israel has long planned on emptying the space of its Palestinian inhabitants in order to implement the plan. Many of these communities have been displaced several times since the 1970s to make way for Israel’s settlement enterprise.

Two years ago, rumors began circulating among the Bedouins living in the EI area of Israel’s intentions to displace them once more. These rumors have been buttressed by waves of demolition orders in most of the Bedouin encampments.

Twenty communities, in which 2,600 persons live, are facing displacement, stated Abu Suleiman, mukhtar (or leader) of Qeserat, a Bedouin community within E1.

Stealing water resources

Qeserat, home to approximately 200 persons, spreads along the slope of a hill beside a busy highway, close to Anata. Israel moved the community there in the 1970s in order to use their land for Kfar Adumim settlement. The Israeli authorities wanted this site for its valuable water resources, Abu Suleiman noted.

Most of the Bedouins in this area are from the Jahalin tribe, originally from the Naqab (Negev) desert. They became refugees after 1948, when the new authorities forced them from their land, and eventually resettled in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities have suggested moving some of the communities in E1 to a location beside Abu Dis — an East Jerusalem suburb partitioned from the city by Israel’s wall in the West Bank — which borders Jerusalem’s chief garbage dump.

This site is already home to about 2,000 Bedouins, who were moved there in the 1990s from land which is to facilitate the expansion of Maale Adumim.

The Civil Administration (the body overseeing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank), however, may be backing down from its enforcement of this idea. Haaretz reported yesterday that Israeli Major General Eitan Dangot suggested Israel would find another location on which the Bedouin would be permanently settled (“Bedouin community wins reprieve from forcible relocation to Jerusalem garbage dump,” 6 February 2012).

Shlomo Lecker, an Israeli lawyer representing 250 Bedouin families threatened by removal, has advised them to refuse the Abu Dis plan at all costs.

He told Israeli daily Haaretz in November that Israel’s plan “is intended to cut them off from the area … No one wants to move to the Abu Dis village and those living there refuse to accept them” (“Israel cancels plans for new Bedouin neighborhood,” 7 November 2011).

The Bedouins have traditionally lived off rearing animals, but the continuing encroachment on their land has made grazing animals increasingly difficult. The proposed site near Abu Dis would bring a halt to this way of life altogether.

“To raise animals you need space,” Abu Suleiman told The Electronic Intifada. “We don’t want to go to Abu Dis. It is crowded and not a safe place for people to live.”

Land mines

Aside from the proximity to a refuse site, land mines remain on the land near the Abu Dis site from Israeli military training. The Bedouin Protection Committee, a representative body comprising leaders from each community, was formed last summer to discuss ways of dealing with the threat of displacement and to advocate for suitable living conditions.

The committee has asked why Israel should not — if they insist on transferring the Bedouins — let them return to their original home in the Naqab. “In our history we are refugees,” Abu Suleiman stressed.

He would be happy, he said, with a permanent Bedouin town, “away from the cities, near the Dead Sea.” He is not optimistic, however, but acutely aware of Israel’s intransigence: “They will not enlarge the Palestinian areas.”

Abu Rashed, mukhtar of Arara, another Bedouin encampment in E1, believes Israel is trying to coerce the Bedouin into accepting the Abu Dis site by expropriating land the communities may see as an alternative. In the first week of January, Israeli soldiers left a military order near Arara, informing them that Nabi Musa, a neighboring area of 18 dunams used for grazing animals, was now a closed military zone (a dunam is equal to 1,000 square meters).

Abu Rashed recalls how life changed after Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967. “Under the Jordanian government we felt free,” he reflects. The situation began to worsen in the 1980s, by which time Israel’s illegal settlement of the West Bank was in full swing. “Israel was taking land, claiming it to be a military area,” he says. “Since then they have taken 90 percent of Arara’s land.”

Many of the E1 communities made agreements decades ago with the owners of the land, mostly residents of Anata or Abu Dis. “Since the settlements began to appear, people prefer for Bedouins to live on their land rather than use it for farming; it’s like protection,” Abu Rashed explained.

Thousands made homeless

The Bedouins of Abu Hindi, an encampment near Abu Dis that falls just outside E1, have been embroiled in a years-long legal battle for their right to stay on their land.

Abu Hamad, the mukhtar’s brother, explains that the deal with the original landowner was informal, agreed upon without the official documentation of ownership that Israel now demands of them.

Israel’s demolition of homes in Area C, creating 1,000 homeless persons in 2011, has continued unabated into the new year.

On 23 January Israeli forces demolished a home — Beit Arabiya, which houses the Shawamreh family and doubles as a peace center — near Anata, for the fifth time, leaving the family of seven homeless. Three other homes and several animal enclosures in the community were also torn down (“Halper vows to rebuild Palestinian home destroyed five times by Israeli soldiers,” Mondoweiss, 25 January 2012).

Two days later the Israeli military tore down six sheds, home to six Bedouin families, in the War ad-Beik area, also bordering Anata (“Army bulldozer destroys six sheds near Jerusalem,” International Middle East Media Center, 25 January 2012).

Abu Suleiman suspects Israel’s pressure on the Bedouins is part of a wider plan to push all Palestinians out of Area C of the West Bank — where Israel has total control. Israel creates obstacles in each facet of life, he says, taking away communities’ water tanks and tractors and refusing to supply them with electricity.

He does not see much change on the horizon. The state “will try to destroy people step by step,” he predicts.

Sophie Crowe is a journalist based in the West Bank. She can be reached at croweso [at] tcd [dot] ie.