Update 2011 - Palestine

Following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, the Jahalin Bedouin, together with four other tribes from the Negev Desert (al-Kaabneh, al-Azazmeh, al-Ramadin and al-Rashayida), took refuge in the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule. These tribes, who number well over 13,000 people in Area C of the West Bank and thousands more in Areas A and B, are semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists living mainly in the rural areas around Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho and the Jordan Valley.

These areas are today part of the so-called “Area C” of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). “Area C”, provisionally granted to Israel in 1995 by the Oslo Accords and which were due to cease to exist in 1998, represents 62% of the West Bank. It is home to all West Bank Israeli settlements, industrial estates, military bases, firing ranges, nature reserves and settler-only by-pass roads, all under Israeli military control.


The Greater Jerusalem plan threatens Bedouin communities

he Israeli army plans to forcibly relocate some 20 Palestinian Jahalin Bedouin communities living near East Jerusalem.1 These communities are located in areas of strategic importance to the Israeli Greater Jerusalem plan. This plan will endanger the viability and contiguity of a future Palestinian state and constitutes yet another unilateral Israeli “Judaisation” measure, creating “facts on the ground” which, if carried out, would not merely affect final status issues but would threaten any possible peace negotiation.

The Israeli Civil Administration plans to begin by relocating these communities, involving over 2,300 persons to a site near the main Jerusalem refuse dump. This will seriously affect the lives of these vulnerable people, just as it affected some 200 families similarly removed to that site in 1997. It is also Israel’s stated intention in the coming years to forcibly displace a total of some 27,000 Bedouin and other herders within the entire “Area C” to various permanent locations, thereby committing a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.2


Dispossessing the Bedouin

The planned population transfer is the continuation of a pattern of dispossession spurred on by the fast growing but, according to international humanitarian laws, illegal Israeli implantation in Area C. The Bedouin in the OPT lack basic infrastructure and suffer from land confiscations and movement restrictions. According to UN statistics, over 1,094 Palestinians in the OPT were forcibly displaced in 2011 due to 622 home demolitions, and 139 were displaced due to settler violence; over 5,258 people were affected by demolitions, 40% of whom were Bedouin.

The inability to move freely, to find grazing land or to access markets to sell their animal products has increased Bedouin vulnerability, and food insecurity in 2010 ran at 55%.3 The building of permanent infrastructure–such as water tanks, power lines, schools and health clinics–is not allowed in Area C without a permit4 and, according to the UN,5 such permits are almost never granted.

Some of the most vulnerable Bedouin are the 2,300 or so living close to the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, the third largest Israeli settlement, just east of Jerusalem. Many of the men are still without permits to work in nearby settlements (their source of work for many years), after having tried to assert their right to education, development and self-determination.6 Their children’s access to school is also affected. The Khan el Ahmar School, built in 2009 using old car tyres and mud, is a case in point.7 Although a demolition order was immediately issued, court proceedings allowed the school–staffed by seven teachers provided by the Palestinian Authority and serving 80 primary students–to remain in operation in 2011. Its future is precarious, not least since three nearby settlements have sued for its demolition, claiming in the Supreme Court that the Jahalin are occupying their land (it actually belongs to Palestinian villagers of nearby Anata) and threatening their security.

All Negev Bedouin displaced to the West Bank as refugees suffer from restrictions limiting their access to natural resources, such as water and grazing land, and many are subject to incidents of settler violence. This is also the case of the isolated Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley, who are living in abjectple represent the human face of Israeli occupation policies and settlement expansion based on ethnic discrimination. As refugees, they call for their right of return to their ancestral lands inside Israel. As people with human rights, they ask that their camps be recognized as official villages through the establishment of a fair planning and zoning policy. As indigenous peoples, they demand the right to preserve their traditional lifestyle, for their needs to be respected and that they be informed and give their free consent if they have to move. At the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) hearings in Geneva in November 2011, the Israeli delegation, when questioned by the Committee, refused to recognise the Bedouin inside Israel or in the West Bank as an indigenous people, thus indicating the general mindset of the Israeli authorities and the problematic nature of this relationship.

According to international humanitarian law, Israel, as an occupying power, is responsible for administering the Occupation in a manner that does not harm the local Palestinian population. In addition, under international human rights law, all people have: the right to a life free from discrimination, the right to have access to effective legal remedy and the right to enjoy an adequate standard of living, housing, health, education and water. Israel is therefore grossly disregarding this body of law by forcing the Bedouin to abandon their herds and traditional lifestyle, and to live under conditions that press them to become dependent on humanitarian assistance.10

The international community must urgently require Israel to halt the planned forced relocations immediately, to respect international human rights standards, and to review the long-term nature of the Occupation.


Notes and references

1 http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_bedouin_FactSheet_October_2011_english.pdf

2 See Diakonia’s legal opinion: http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=4164

3 UNRWa 2010: Herders Factsheet http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9B8154497A585D36852578AF00522589

4 See Human Rights Watch, 2010: “Separate and Unequal – Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” (December 2010) at http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/12/19/separate-and-unequal-0

5 http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.pdf

6 See The Indigenous World 2011, p. 364.

7 Ibid.

8 Ma’an, 2010: “Eye on the Jordan Valley”. Accessed at http://www.maan-ctr.org/pdfs/Eyeon%20theJVReportFinal.pdf

9    The Jordan Valley constitutes 30% of Area C.

10  See two documentary films produced by the author, at Time Magazine Videos, One-Time Nomads in the West Bank Face Eviction - Video - TIME.com and at www.jahalin.org: NOWHERE LEFT TO GO - The Jahalin Bedouin.


Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is Advocacy Officer of the Jahalin Association, a Palestinian organization which she and Jahalin Bedouin are currently setting up to deal with Jahalin issues, especially the planned forcible displacement. She was previously, and for many years, Action Advocacy Officer with ICAHD – the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Advocacy Officer for Grassroots Jerusalem and an environmental activist for four years in Sinai, Egypt, where she lived amongst the Bedouin; she has a 16-year relationship with Sinai Bedouin, for many years helping women handicraft producers to market their products.