PART 1: “We [Bedouin] are the [Native Americans] of Palestine”
Bedouin like Mohammed Abu Dahook found little respite from Israeli policies after the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. According to Abu Dahook, “The hounding of the Bedouin in and around Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho, Jerusalem and Ramallah picked up in 1997. The Israeli government wanted to expropriate more land for settlements prior to final status negotiations and to expand the city limits of Jerusalem to incorporate all surrounding settlements. Â About 60 families [450 people] were relocated to a hilltop, which was unsuitable for grazing and adjacent to a Jerusalem municipality city dump and unfit for habitation; they subsequently took their case to the courts. Other Bedouin families living near Anata, near East Jerusalem, have been given eviction notices so that Israel can build bypass roads. They have refused to leave. Bedouin tribes throughout the West Bank have been similarly targeted for displacement: al-Rashaydeh tribe east of Bethlehem; the Froush Beit Dajan north of Nablus; the Abu Abed Hamdan al-Turkman tribe in the Jenin area; the Arab al-Azazma, al-Ajajra, and al-Masaid tribes near Jericho; and the al-Hanajreh and al-Azazmeh tribes east of Hebron.”
Abu Dahook explained that “In the 1990s, they started to give warnings stating that our homes would be demolished because we lacked building permits. As though a tent needs a permit! Sometimes they’d hand it to you, and sometimes they come by and if they don’t find anyone, they’ll post it [where you see it].” He added that “All of the tents here [in Beit Iksa] have gotten warnings from Israel in the 1990s. I myself received about four. In 1994 the Israelis came to me and gave me a warning. So I hired a lawyer, Shlomo Lecker, and the case went on for several years, and it reached the high court. The court issued an order overruling the expulsion and I was to go with them to Beit El so that the leaders there could resolve the problem. They never got back to me again.”
However, according to Abu Dahook, “The worst period was after the PA [Palestinian Authority] came. The Israelis started to harass us; they closed off more grazing lands than they had before. Second, the price of feed went up 400 percent. To make matters worse, the PA started to import sheep, which killed our market; we couldn’t cover our expenses.” He added that “the PA has not asked about the welfare of any of us. Slightly more than a year ago, we got PA officials here and told them about our situation. It costs a lot to hire lawyers; we would have to all chip in, everyone in a group [of tents] was Â considered a single case. The PA hasn’t paid for a lawyer so far.”
Abu Dahook said that his area was considered area C by the terms of the Oslo agreement: “A group of us met with the late Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat]. So I asked him a question, and his response to me was, ‘If you have a single reservation about Oslo, I have 500 reservations.’ If the leadership that signed the agreement says this, what can I as an ordinary citizen do? Should I start a corrective movement within the revolution, do I fight the Israelis, what? When I heard that, I felt that I was finished, that I had been put in my grave while I am alive.”
However, Abu Dahook and his family continued to resist the policies. “In solidarity, we joined the Jahalin families in their demonstrations against Ma’ale Adumim, which forced them to leave. A few well-known personalities came, but they didn’t help; they just wanted to score points with the PA,” he explained.
Continuing to destroy the land and the lives of its inhabitants
Israel’s illegal construction of its wall on Palestinian land in the West Bank presented a new, but entirely consistent, threat to the Bedouins. While he said that he didn’t know Israel’s exact intentions behind the wall, Abu Dahook explained that “The wall is 300 meters away and will take 70 percent of the village lands away. It will join up with the other wall, and we’ll be on the Palestinian side. We will stay here. If you are not directly in the path of the wall, Israel doesn’t care where you are.”
According to Abu Dahook, “In 2006, two men came to me, one was from the [Israeli] Civil Administration and one was the Border Guard. They said, you have to leave in two days. I asked whether they had an official expulsion order; I wanted a copy, so I could give it to my lawyer and he could check it out. He said, you have to leave; I’ll bring the bulldozer. I said, I have 70 tents, and as soon as you destroy one, I’ll erect another one. I asked, are these government lands or private property? Did the owners raise a court case against me to expel me, and you are coming to carry out the court order to expel me? If they did, give it to me in writing so that I can give it to my lawyer and he can explore the matter. And if these are state lands, then I am more entitled to state lands, because you took our land in 1948. And the state is obligated to take care of people. He went away, and I never saw him again.”
Abu Dahook explained that “When Arab Jahalin were made to leave Abu Dis, each family was given a plot of land between 600 and 800 meters, depending on the size of the family as registered on the ID card, and they were given a building permit. They didn’t get any cash. The government is obligated to settle us in housing, but this is not an alternative to my land. If the government doesn’t want to find us a place to settle in, it should leave us alone and stop pushing us around. I will live in a tent as I please, just leave me alone. But giving me a plot of land now is no alternative to the land I had in 1948.
“Jerusalem is a capital for the whole area, and it is an important commercial market. As a result of the wall, people have been deprived of the market, there’s no transportation, and you can’t enter Jerusalem to sell your produce. There’s no market in the PA areas. Right now, a ton of feed costs 2,000 shekels. If I want to sell a kilo of cheese in the West Bank, I have to sell it for 12 shekels. But when Jerusalem was open, I could sell it for 20 and 25 shekels. I have 100 sheep; if I sell half of then, I won’t cover the expense of their feed.”
Abu Dahook added that “I do not consider food rations to be assistance; it doesn’t solve the problem. I told the PA that it should provide housing [collections of tents] in fallow land it owns. But no one is listening.”
As Abu Dahook spoke about his history and the various assaults on Bedouin, he volunteered the inescapable conclusion that “our way of life is ending.” He was referring to the Bedouin, pounded by the occupation, shrinking grazing lands and water resources, and the high cost of living. Without pastures to graze their livestock, some Bedouin were forced to seek employment in Israeli settlements. In truth, it is hard to imagine that any Palestinian community — Â Bedouin, rural, or urban — can be sustainable in the long run as long as Israel creates steadily worsening conditions and more oppressive facts on the ground.
Ida Audeh is a Palestinian from the West Bank who works as a technical editor in Boulder, Colorado. Her op-eds and articles have been published by the (Denver) Rocky Mountain News, the (Boulder) Daily Camera, The Electronic Intifada, i>Countercurrents, and Counterpunch. She can be reached at Â idaaudeh A T yahoo D O T com.