The Prawer Plan, Special West Bank Edition

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The site of the planned Bedouin township of Nu’eimeh. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

What does this remind you of? Thousands of people are forced, at gunpoint, to leave their homes. They are herded together and the people with the guns force them to live together, at a level of crowding that conflicts with their way of life and of earning a living.

It doesn’t really matter what this reminds us of. The Civil Administration in the West Bank, part of the executive branch of the Israeli government, is diligently working on wreaking another calamity on thousands of people. For us that’s small change, right? A slight shudder of the printer as it ejects the pages with the orders.

An appointed body, not one that is elected by those whose fates are in its hands, composed of civil employees, settlers and active or retired military personnel, is preparing another draconian version of the so-called Prawer plan. The original plan was for the forcible relocation of Bedouin in the Negev, while the new one targets Bedouin in the West Bank. The Civil Administration doesn’t ask them what they want, listen to them or consider their history or future. The areas that will be cleared will be used to build thousands of apartments for Jews and also, presumably, parks as well as single-family farms (the latter, known as “lone farms,” for Jews only). How simple. How easy.

The target this time is Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho and north of Jericho, comprising 15,000 to 20,000 people all together. We are used to seeing Bedouin in tents and tin shacks along the new highways, or searching for grass to pasture their flocks, on bits of land between expanding settlements and military bases. Many think their way of life is primitive, hard and pointless. That attitude is used to justify the mass expulsion-concentration now being drafted by the Civil Administration, that messenger of modernity and progress. 

The Civil Administration is preparing three townships for them, as the coordinator of government activities in the territories a month ago assured the representatives of area settlements, who are so concerned by the continued proximity of the Bedouin. For the past 10 years the state has been notifying the High Court of Justice of its plans, using them to justifying its prohibition on connecting these communities to water and electricity, on building schools or new homes to accommodate natural growth. And all within shouting distance of luxurious Jewish settlements.

The largest town being planned, intended for people from three different Bedouin tribes, is adjacent to the village of Nu’eimeh, north of Jericho. It consists of 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of state land, in Area C (under full Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords). It is a small pocket of land, adjacent to and encircled by the Jericho A enclave (under full Palestinian control according to the Oslo Accords). 

Several changes were made to the plan to accommodate the objections of area settlers. Last week the deadline for publishing the final plan and calling for the submission of objections was to have been announced, but no date has been set. The spokesperson of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the plans for developing Nu’eimeh were still being negotiated with the inhabitants. Negotiated? Two clans from the Rashadiyeh tribe who already live nearby were led to believe that the plan only includes them, so they agreed to it. They have now found out that clans from the Kaabneh and the Jahalin tribes are also slated to be forcibly relocated to Nu’eimeh: All three tribes are strongly opposed to the idea.

In a statement, the office of the COGAT said, “The Supreme Planning Committee, which is slated to discuss the objections, is expected to reconvene soon.”

In other words, it will resume discussions on planning the next human calamity. The plan calls for squeezing between 3,800 and 6,000 Bedouin onto plots of land and into the homes that are to be built on them, at a population density and a proximity to other clans and tribes that goes against their traditions and their way of life. Women will become even more restricted in their movement. Most of the sheep and goats will be sold, for lack of space. Having different clans and tribes living in such close quarters is a recipe for friction and disputes that will quickly escalate. The trauma from the forced move will not make it any easier. From experience, they know an innocent scuffle between kids can set off a firestorm. And in the event of a major feud, one of the parties will no longer be able to fold its tents and move on, as is the custom today.

The Mevo’ot Yeriho outpost, the Yitav settlement, a lone farm of one settler and a military camp will block access to grazing lands from the west and the north. The Palestinian village of Nu’eimeh to the southwest, and the planned Palestinian city of Medinat Qamar and a Palestinian agribusiness project (in Area A) will close off the township from the east. The main source of livelihood of the Bedouin, the axis around which a millennia-old tradition has revolved, will be cut off.

Such a large increase to the population will be a massive burden on the water sources of the village of Nu’eimeh and its fields. The proximity of a large Palestinian police base has already reduced the village’s share of its two springs by 40 percent. The nearby Ein al-Sultan refugee camp has access to a single spring, and in the summer months the water supply is irregular and insufficient. The camp will face even more water shortages if some of its water is diverted to the new neighbors. Residents of the new township will also compete with the residents of the refugee camp for the limited number of jobs in the area and for the already greatly depleted educational and health services provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency in Ein al-Sultan.

Many of the Bedouin in the West Bank in general and in Area C in particular were expelled from their original villages in the Negev after 1948, or are descended from those who were expelled). They were scattered across the West Bank, with well-calculated distance maintained between each clan and tribe. Some bought land. And then came 1967. With the usual tricks (land appropriations, firing zones, nature reserves, confiscation of sheep, demolitions, expulsion), Israel increasingly restricted the movement and livelihood of the Bedouin.

And now we’re approaching the final stage of destruction. This is what will happen if no one wakes up and says: Not again.

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