About 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be forcibly relocated from the land on which they have lived for 60 years under an Israeli plan to expand a huge Jewish settlement.
The removal of about 2,300 members of the Bedouin Jahalin tribe, two-thirds of whom are children, is scheduled to begin next month. The Israeli authorities plan to relocate the families from the West Bank to a site close to a municipal garbage dump on the edge of Jerusalem.
The Bedouin say the move would expose them to health hazards, deny them access to land to graze their livestock and endanger their traditional lifestyle. They add that the viability of their existing communities has been seriously eroded by the growth of Jewish settlements, the creation of military zones, demolitions of homes and animal pens and the building of a highway, which cuts through their encampments.
“Because of the [military] closures and the settlements, we are living in a jail which gets smaller every year,” said Eid Hamis Swelem Jahalin, 46, who was born in the encampment of Khan al--Ahmar, and has lived there almost all his life.
The relocation plan is the first phase of a longer-term program to remove around 27,000 Bedouin Arabs from Area C, the 62 percent of the West Bank under Israeli military control.
The communities have not been formally notified of the plan, which was disclosed by Israel’s civil administration, the military body governing Area C, to a UN agency.
The head of the Israeli Civil Administration visited Khan al--Ahmar three weeks ago to give verbal warning of the impending removal, Hamis said.
“He said the land belongs to the government, that we are illegally here. I told him that I lived here before 1967, before you even came to our land,” Hamis said.
The tiny communities perched on the bleak rocky hills, which roll down toward the Dead Sea, endure a harsh existence without electricity, running water, sanitation, paved roads and medical facilities. The Bedouin homes are makeshift structures of wood, corrugated iron and tarpaulin.
The nearby Jewish settlements, in contrast, are connected to utilities and services. Ma’ale Adumim, home to almost 40,000 people and which overlooks the Jahalin communities, has 21 schools, 80 kindergartens, a public transport network, libraries, swimming pools and shopping malls.
The area on which the Jahalin live has been designated by Israel for the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim. Many Palestinians see this as part of a strategic plan to close a ring of Jewish settlements that would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank. By stretching down to the Jordan valley, an expanded Ma’ale Adumim would also bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
“They want to empty the Bedouin from the whole area and they will put settlers in our place and there will be no Palestinian state,” Hamis said.
All Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.
The Jahalin were originally from the Negev desert, from which they fled or were forced out following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Now the extended tribe is scattered across the West Bank. Those threatened with relocation say they rented the land from its Palestinian owners, who live in the nearby village of Anata. However, the Israeli authorities say the land now belongs to the state, and their homes, animal pens and small schools are built without permission — which is practically impossible to obtain — and therefore subject to demolition.