Bedouin villagers in the Jerusalem area face daily assaults perpetrated by Israeli soldiers in the attempt to persuade local families to abandon their homes and gain land for settlement expansion. The nerve-racking strategies used by the occupying power include physical intimidation and the shooting of rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters at the tents or wooden structures, which can often spark a fire. Forceful eviction of civilians during occupation is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, as stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention, and infringes upon the right to self-determination and to an adequate standard of living.
Since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, deemed illegal under international law, Israel has implemented policies aimed at evicting the Palestinian population from the surrounding lands. The plan for the “Judaisation” of the area envisages the displacement of 2,300 Bedouins currently living in the block that extends between Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummim, the third largest in the West Bank. This massive land expropriation — known as the E1 plan — will further severe the ties between Jerusalem and the adjacent villages in Area C and create an enclave that cuts the West Bank in two, rendering a contiguous Palestinian State impossible. An annexation of the area would also severe East Jerusalem, the long hailed capital of any acceptable Palestinian state, from the rest of the state.
According to the Israeli Human Rights Organization B’Tselem, the original plan intended to displace the Bedouins alongside the Abu Dis garbage dump, east of Jerusalem. Due to recognition by Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry of the health hazards posed by the new location, the plan no longer stands. Relocation of the Bedouin communities is still an unsolved problem. Most of them reject relocation in urban areas, unwilling to renounce their ancestral land and their traditional lifestyle, based on herding.
So far, no judge has overturned a home demolition order in Bedouin villages, as these are not legally recognised by the Israeli government. Israel justifies eviction on the token that the Oslo Accords allow for settlements and military zones in Area C, an interpretation that was rejected by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
Living under a tear-gas cloud in Anata
Due to the centrality of their habitations, Bedouins are caught in the middle of the clashes between the Palestinian shabab (or youth) and the Israeli soldiers patrolling the settlement, only a few kilometres away. The town’s main street runs all the way from the city centre to the restricted zone surrounding Ma’ale Adummim, cutting right through the three Bedouin communities living just outside the town of Anata. When soldiers approach, the inhabitants descend towards the settlement and clash with the soldiers right inside the Bedouin villages.
Anata has been formally divided in two by the wall, separating the Salam neighbourhood, annexed to Jerusalem, and the rest of the village in the West Bank. Tear gas canisters are often shot from behind the wall separating the village from the Jerusalem area, only a few meters from the Bedouin tents, as part of Israel’s intimidation strategy aimed at driving them out of the area.
Burned tires, tear gas bombs and rubber bullets are visible all over the place. The feeling of insecurity is tangible. Children start screaming when western looking people approach, one of them cries unstoppably even after being reassured that no Israeli soldiers are in the area. Jamila, the mother of one of the Bedouin families living in the area, expresses the worry she has for her husband and two of her children, who suffer from severe asthma due to frequent tear gas inhalation. Some of the animals lie on the ground barely moving, afflicted with the same condition. The tent under which the family gathers has a large whole made by a tear gas bomb. These canisters are flammable and when they hit the animals’ feed they often ignite, threatening the adjacent wooden houses and tents. Jamila recounts that some of the very small children think that onions are tear gas canisters, as they make you cry. Being a mother, she aches for not being able to provide her kids with a sense of protection: “I can’t lock the door at night and tell my children to sleep calmly.”
Bedouins are frequently victims of discrimination from both sides, Israeli and Palestinian. “One night Israeli soldiers came and accused us of having stolen some horses from the settlement. They forced us out of the houses in the middle of the night and started looking for them, as if we could hide horses in our tents!” Jamila says in disbelief. After the clashes, Bedouins live in constant fear of arrest. “If the Israelis see a boy with a red shirt throwing stones, and my son has a red shirt, they will immediately assume it’s him.” She also recounts of the time when she tried to speak with the Palestinians taking part in the clashes. “Go and fight somewhere else,” she told them, “we have children here, it is haram (prohibited) to hurt Palestinians like you!” As a reply, she was hit by a stone and told not to open her mouth again.
Palestinian access to medical help in Jerusalem has been made very difficult after the construction of the barrier separating the town from Jerusalem in 2002. A permit is needed to cross the border, which takes a minimum two days and allows for one non-renewable day of permission. In emergency cases, such as an asthma attack due to tear gas inhalation, it is necessary to travel all the way to Ramallah instead of the neighbouring Jerusalem.
In one of the Bedouin communities –which totals some 50 people – three women suffer from hearing and speaking impairment and need medical attention. One of them is a girl of 9, who is assisted by a hearing aid but is not able to speak. During the clashes, these women are not able to predict the falling tear gas bombs from their sound or to cry for help.
Abu Dis: Life in a garbage dump
Despite the fact that the Israeli Civil Administration’s plan to systematically relocate the Bedouin communities to Jerusalem’s landfill seems to have fallen through, several Bedouin families have been forced out of their homes by the expansion of Ma’ale Adummim and have had to resettle in the Abu Dis area, an area recognised byIsrael’s Environmental Protection Ministry as hazardous for health.
At least once a month, Israeli soldiers threaten the family with eviction notices, but they refuses to leave. Life in the village is not affordable and they would loose their only source of work, the garbage dump.
The Azasm family lives in the lowland at the feet of the village and earns its living by sorting the waste – dropped every week just in front of their metal houses – into piles according to the material. For this job, the family earns 150 shekels per week, a salary on which they attempt to feed seven children and two adults. The kids take the work as a game, plunging their hands deep into the rubbish to extract the material they are looking for. When they find it, they run on top of the general pile with an ease only derived through habit, until they reach the correct lump.
In most Bedouin villages, the makeshift structures have no foundation but are raised directly on the bare soil. When it rains, the water flows abundantly inside the houses and soaks the matrasses on which they sleep. Bedouins would like to improve their living conditions, but any construction must be previously authorized by a permit. As the Israeli authorities consider Bedouin villages as illegitimate, no building permit has ever been granted.
Israel’s conduct breaches International legal obligations
International Law allows for land expropriation only in situations of imperative military necessity or on-going hostilities, none of which is applicable to the relocation of Bedouin communities. Even in these exceptional cases, the communities’ willingness to be displaced into another area and the allocation of appropriate compensation must be ensured. According to research conducted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), relocated families are affected negatively in a variety of ways, including the deterioration of living conditions, loss of tribal cohesion and health problems.
As an occupying power, the Israeli government is obliged to administer occupied territory in a way that benefits the local population—i.e. providing education and granting basic needs. However, most of the Bedouin communities in the West Bank have no access to the electricity network, only half of them have running water, and approximately 55% of the communities are food insecure. The Israeli government claims to be unable to provide hundreds or thousands of Bedouin residents with basic facilities because of difficulties due to geographical dispersion and accordingly refuses any legal obligation over unrecognised villages.
The blatant violation of International Law obligations proves, once again, the inability of the international community to ensure the enforcement of basic human rights principles in the context Israel’s occupation.
Published on: Palestine Monitor
Article and photos by: Fatima Masri