The Bedouin Communities East of Jerusalem – A Planning Survey
Khan Al-Ahmar Communities
The Bedouin population living in the area east of Jerusalem has for some 45 years been subjected to the direct control of the State of Israel, under an occupying government. During this entire period, the State of Israel has abandoned the Bedouin residents of the region, ignored the ways of life and existence they lead and their needs, and refrained from fulfilling the obligation it bears as the sovereign entity in the area. The historical circumstances that brought the Bedouin communities to the area made them even more vulnerable than the general Palestinian population that has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. The Bedouin of the Jahalin tribe were uprooted from their lands following the 1948 War and became refugees, first under Jordanian rule, and subsequently, under Israeli rule. Although most of them were formally recognized as refugees, they did not move to the refugee camps and were not incorporated in any orderly and thorough manner into the system that provides aid to refugees. Moreover, as landless refugees, they were forced to settle as secondary tenants on land owned by others, based on unwritten agreements, thus left with a tenuous connection to the land they cultivated, and on which they lived. For these reasons, among others, the Bedouin population in the area between East Jerusalem and Jericho became one of the most vulnerable and exposed to harm from the mechanisms of the Israeli occupation.
The State of Israel, on its part, viewed the area as part of greater Jerusalem. This trend began already in 1967, when proposals were raised for expanding Jerusalem eastwards, and it took on greater force beginning in the 1970s with the initial planning and establishment of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. While this plan has not yet been fully implemented, it also was never removed from the books, as can be seen today in the approved building plans in the area known as E1. In effect, Ma’ale Adumim and the surrounding area are considered an eastward extension of Jerusalem, and the plan to build the separation barrier and the creation of the “Ma’ale Adumim enclave” in addition to the plans for future building in the area, give this trend momentum and entrench it further. There is no doubt that related developments will have a decisive impact on the spatial layout of the future Palestinian state when it is established, in terms of possibilities for access to East Jerusalem and territorial contiguity between the northern and southern regions of the West Bank. Beyond this, however, it has a destructive impact on the daily present reality of the current residents of the area: on the residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods and the nearby Palestinian localities, and to a greater extent, on the Bedouin population living in the region.
The State of Israel’s planning and settlement policy has been setting the stage for this situation for years, relating to the area as an empty space and consistently and continually ignoring the Bedouin presence there. This policy has first of all manifested in the sweeping expropriation of some 3,000 hectares of private lands that were under the ownership of Palestinian residents living in nearby localities, on the claim that the expropriation was intended for public good. Later, the development and building on these lands blatantly ignored the population already living on them, and were intended for the sole benefit of the Jewish public, which is encouraged to settle there (see General Map -12). As the historical analysis in this report demonstrates, at the site occupied by the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, clusters of Bedouin population already existed; residents of these areas were forced to vacate repeatedly, as the settlement grew and was populated with increasing numbers of new settlers. In a manner similar to Ma’ale Adumim, over the years, additional Jewish settlements were established in the region, which gradually expanded at the expense of the living and grazing areas of the Bedouin population. All of the settlements are allocated broad jurisdictional areas and development plans are made, ensuring the possibility of their continued development and expansion, and at the same time, continuously limiting the open space available to the Bedouin population. In addition to the expropriation for purposes of development for the Jewish population, broad expanses are closed by military orders for military training and the establishment of military bases and for goals defined as security objectives, again for the Jewish population only. Thus is the Bedouin population denied the possibility of maintaining the semi-nomadic lifestyle of sheep, goat and camel herding and grazing that it led for dozens of years, prior to the Israeli occupation.
The extensive development of the area, intended almost entirely for the Israeli-Jewish population, not only ignores the local Bedouin population, neglecting its original areas of residence, but also has inflicted damage on the environment, health, and life quality of the residents living in these places for many years. The Israeli planning policy practiced under the occupation regime assigns the areas where the Bedouin reside an illegal status, and in so doing obviates any possibility of developing them. In none of the Bedouin areas of residence is there a legal option for building a house or any kind of public building, to pave a road or to set down infrastructure for civilian services, and the residents are constantly under close surveillance and enhanced enforcement, manifested in a constant onslaught of demolition and evacuation orders, and actual demolitions of every new structure and of any addition or repair to an existing building. Every investment in infrastructure carried out in the area entirely ignores the existing Bedouin settlement, such that extensive infrastructure systems – electrical networks, water pipes, sewage systems and new roads – pass near the areas of Bedouin residence, and sometimes even cross through them, while the inhabitants are unable to connect to them and to enjoy their benefits (see General Map -13). Moreover, as the present survey reveals, many places where the infrastructure systems pass near places of Bedouin residence, they not only fail to bring benefits, but they are the cause of additional woes. The security fences on new roads that prohibit the passage of Bedouin residents (including children on their way to school), the leaky sewage systems, sewage waste from the Qedar settlement that flows into the tributaries of Wadi Abu Hindi and Al-Muntar, the waste treatment plant that serves Ma’ale Adumim but causes environmental hazards in Al-Kassara near which it was established – all of these are additional testimony to the pattern of ongoing inattention, neglect and damage inflicted by Israeli governance of the occupied Bedouin population.
The planning and development policy of the Israeli government and its use of the space east of Jerusalem, are a blatant violation of international law and of the obligations it imposes on the occupying power. Firstly, the State of Israel violates international law when it transfers a Jewish population from Israel to reside in the territory of the West Bank, in settlements that are illegal under international law. On the other hand, Israel violates international law when it commits violations against the Bedouin population that lived there prior to the occupation, and shirks its obligations to protect the residents of the occupied area and to take responsibility for their living conditions, including the right to proper housing. Graver yet, the government authorities have for years threatened to uproot and remove the local population in clear contravention of the injunctions that explicitly prohibit: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not […], regardless of their motive” (Art. 49, Fourth Geneva Convention). It is blatantly clear that this violation becomes even more extreme when the removal and the uprooting of the Bedouin population are intentional preliminary steps for the development and expansion of the illegal settlements. Moreover, Israel violates the directives of the international conventions to which it is obligated to protect the culture of the native peoples and minority groups, including connections to land, cultures and lifestyle.
The State of Israel offers the Bedouin residents of the area only one solution – uprooting them from their original places of residence, where they have lived for decades according to their cultural, social and economic traditions, and concentrating them in a locality that does not correspond to their needs and their desire to continue upholding the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. The experience of the past 15 years, during which Israel has implemented the strategy of uprooting and evacuating Bedouin communities, concentrating them in the locality of Al-Jabal on the outskirts of the town of Al-E’izariya, indicates, beyond all doubt, that this strategy does not constitute an appropriate response to the overall needs of the Bedouin population. Although the State of Israel justifies the move as part of a process of modernization that the communities must undergo and claims that is ostensibly beneficial to the Bedouin residents, reality indicates that families transferred to the new locality were cut off from their communities, their ways of life, and the possibilities of earning a livelihood in the manner on which they had relied over the years. The new locality was planned without taking into account the existing social arrangements and the ways in which they are manifested in the living space of the Bedouin communities: without addressing the social ties between the families, the limitations and spatial arrangements pertaining to the movement of women in the private and public space, and the division of labor in the family in managing the homestead and the livestock. Beyond all this, the planning offers no recourse for continuing their main source of livelihood, and did not take into account the issues of land ownership, namely that in the eyes of many Bedouins, the lands of Al-Jabal are still perceived as contested property on which they are unprepared to live.
For all of these reasons, it is clear today that the solution of Al-Jabal is both inappropriate and inadequate. Even if living in Al-Jabal would ensure residents the relative convenience of available infrastructure and access to basic social services, the social, familial, cultural, and economic prices exacted from them is immeasurably high. The failure of Al-Jabal led to the phenomenon whereby dozens of families who had been moved forcibly to live there, reverted in various ways to their previous lifestyle, even if only partially. Some of the families retained ownership of their flocks, or purchased new flocks, which they keep in various locations outside of Al-Jabal; some of the families have been divided such that only part of the family, mainly some of the women and children, live in Al-Jabal, while another part lives together with the flocks, outside of the locality. In light of all this, it is not surprising that there is vehement opposition of the residents of the non-formalized Bedouin localities to accepting offers of the Civil Administration that resemble Al-Jabal. The suggestions that are now pending, such as the expansion of Al-Jabal near the waste removal site, or other locations in the Jericho area, indicate that no lesson has been learned from Al-Jabal, and the authorities are concerned not with the welfare of the residents, but rather the forcible and complete removal of the Bedouin communities from the Ma’ale Adumim enclave.
A proper and suitable solution to the suffering of the Bedouin communities in the area east of Jerusalem, suffering that originates, as this survey demonstrates, in the Israeli planning and settlement policy, must address the needs and traditional lifestyle of the Bedouin in their places of residence. Such a solution cannot be based on another forcible uprooting and resettlement. In order for a suitable planning solution to be enacted, Israel must first create all of the necessary conditions that would enable the Bedouin population to reasonably develop, move around and use its space. As long as Israel continues to develop and build in the region in a manner that enables the expansion of the settlements at the expense of a protected population under occupation, it will be impossible to implement viable solutions for the Bedouin populations in its current places of residence. As long as Israel continues ignoring the local population, its needs, and its manner of using the space, the violations will continue. In other words, the first step to an acceptable solution for the Bedouin population in the area must be based on a reexamination of the space and a redefinition of extensive swaths of territory, such that they become open and available for use by the Bedouin population.