December 14, 2011
As soon as Israel was established in 1948, it began a ruthless campaign of displacement and expulsion against the Bedouins – the indigenous population of the Negev in what is now Southern Israel – and 64 years later Bedouin refugees living in the West Bank are due to face the same fate once again.
The Israeli Occupying Authority is currently planning to expel 27’000 Bedouin Palestinians from their homes in Area C of the West Bank. In order to justify this action, the Israeli government is suggesting a forced relocation of the Bedouins – to a dump site miles from their original homes.
This week I attended a tour hosted by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, who are sending out an urgent plea to international communities to draw attention to the plans. The homes of the Bedouins that we visited are currently located in an area that holds strategic significance for further expansion of Israeli settlements. The Bedouins make up 20% of the Palestinian population living in Area C, and their forcible removal in order to further Israel’s colonial enterprise in the West Bank constitutes ethnic cleansing – a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
Area C makes up around 60% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control, as it is where most Israeli colonization is located, including the largest settlements and military training zones. Palestinians living in Area C have long suffered discrimination under Israeli military rule, particularly surrounding the issue of housing. A UN report in 2008 found that 94% of building permit applications were denied by the Israeli occupying authorities, leading Bedouin villages to be routinely and systematically demolished.
However, this time Israel does not want the bad propaganda images of bulldozers sweeping through the region and razing Bedouin communities to the ground in one fell swoop. Instead, they are making life for Bedouin communities living in Area C incredibly unsustainable, so that they may eventually be forced to succumb to being driven out of their homes because they simply cannot survive there.
As we sat in the Bedouin village and looked up the hill, the large and glistening Ma’ale Adummim settlement loomed above us. The settlements have high quality housing, schools, hospitals, access to cheap electricity and water, all of which provide a very comfortable and inviting way of life for the settlers who are tempted there by the Israeli government.
The Bedouins, of course, have none of these luxuries. None of the Bedouin communities are connected to the electricity network, despite being taunted by the pylons that rise above their villages heading into the settlements, and only half are connected to the water network.
Both the settlers and the Bedouins fall under the responsibility of the Israeli occupying authorities in Area C, yet the Bedouins’ traditionally pastoral and agricultural way of life is being systematically destroyed. Land has been confiscated from the communities to make way for settlements, making the rearing of livestock – their traditional livelihood – an impossibility. Forced into narrow enclaves, they have generally downsized from camels to goats, and in many places have been forced to abandon their herds entirely.
The village that we visited is one of the West Bank’s last surviving herders, but the village is penned in by Israeli military bases, by-pass roads and Jewish settlements on all sides, ending the Bedouin’s traditional nomadic way of life. Israeli soldiers confiscate any flocks that stray from Bedouin lands, and they are frequently subjected to attacks from extremist settlers.
In an attempt to counteract the traditional antagonism that has taken place between settlers and the Palestinians, the leader of the Bedouin community that we visited invited the council of Ma’ale Adummim settlement to come to the Bedouin village to show them the school they had recently built and explain the problems they had been facing, and the meeting initially appeared to be a success. Three days later, the Bedouin village was served with a notice saying the school was to be demolished.
However, it was learning of the plan to relocate Bedouins to a site next to the Abu Dis refuse dump in the occupied West Bank that shocked me most deeply. Israel dumps 55% of its waste in this site, because it is significantly cheaper than dumping it inside Israel, and whilst they claim that Palestinians benefit from using this site too, the occupying forces have done nothing to try to improve the high problem of waste management within the West Bank itself.
The refuse dump poses a health hazard to anybody living nearby, and Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry has warned that the site is a source of environmental pollution, risk of fire and even explosions, due to the mismanagement of the gas produced from unloading the waste. Furthermore, the plans do not take into consideration the needs of the Bedouin communities – their culture, their families, their livestock or possibilities of work that will be limited if the move to the dumping site goes ahead.
This case most crudely demonstrates the attitude of the Israeli government towards Palestinians. The heartlessness inherent in the Israeli occupation reveals its ugly head when they will not think twice at forcibly evicting Bedouin families, and literally throwing them in the trash. B’Tselem is urging the international community to ensure that these plans are not permitted to go ahead, and I want to please encourage any readers of my blog to share this post, and expose the plans to ethnically cleanse Bedouins from their land, in order to gain international recognition that this has been a part of Israeli policy since the destructive formation of the state of Israel 64 years ago.