Israel Cancels Plans for New Bedouin Neighborhood

Canceled plan was prepared in cooperation and consultation with the Bedouin communities living on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, through their representative, Atty. Shlomo Lecker of Jerusalem.

Haaretz has learned that the head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, Moti Almoz, met recently with representatives of settlements in the Ma'ale Adumim bloc to report on a plan to forcefully concentrate the area's Bedouin population in the Bedouin village near the Abu Dis garbage dump. According to the same source, Almoz also told the Israeli settlers that the Civil Administration canceled a plan to build another permanent neighborhood for the Bedouin. The canceled plan was prepared in cooperation and consultation with the Bedouin communities living on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, through their representative, Atty. Shlomo Lecker of Jerusalem.

By contrast, the Civil Administration neither consulted nor formally informed Bedouin representatives of the plan currently being prepared and first reported in Haaretz on September 14. Lecker, the representative of some 250 Bedouin families, said that following the Haaretz report he received numerous calls from worried clients asking about its accuracy.

Bedouin children - Alex Levac - 07112011
Alex Levac

This summer, following the increased number of demolitions carried out by the Civil Administration in the area's Bedouin tent camps, the "Bedouin Protection Committee" was formed. This week the committee, representing some 20 tent encampments on Jerusalem's eastern outskirts, announced its resolute opposition to the Civil Administration's displacement and relocation plan. At a meeting held on Tuesday with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, possible ways of action were discussed in dealing with the intention to forcefully relocate the Bedouin population. A member of the committee told Haaretz that the Civil Administration did not consult or even talk with the Bedouin representatives themselves - in contradiction to the statement of the Administration and the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson to Haaretz on September 13, according to which the IDF Central Command had approved the plan "to settle the Bedouin tribes in a permanent location, while communicating with tribe leaders."

The plan to establish another permanent Bedouin neighborhood, in addition to the existing one, developed in parallel to the approval of the Separation Fence route in the Ma'ale Adumim area after 2005 (the route has in the meantime been canceled ). The building of the fence involved an Israeli intention to drive out the Bedouin population living west of the route.

On behalf of four tent encampments, Lecker objected to the intentions to displace the Bedouin. He cited a decision of the High Court of Justice (in response to one of his previous petitions ) stating that the Bedouin were permanent residents. The discussions between Leker and representatives from the Civil Administration raised the possibility of establishing an additional permanent location, with better conditions than those at the settlement near the Abu Dis garbage dump.

The intended site, to which his clients agreed, is in the Tabaq el Qteyf area, about three kilometers east of the settlement of Kedar. The nearby Palestinian local councils, Sawahra and Abu Dis, gave their agreement to the plan - in contrast to their discontent at the location of the Bedouin village established near the dump and on lands which Palestinian residents claim as their private property.

In December 2009, Leker received a letter from the legal counsel of the Bedouin Authority at the Civil Administration, stating: "As you know ... a general plan has been drawn up to house the residents of the illegal dwellings in the Mishor Adumim area, at the site called Tabaq el Qteyf... Since the plan in question is complex and costly, its implementation has naturally met with various difficulties. Nevertheless, the Bedouin Authority is acting to advance the plan."

Leker told Haaretz that the implementation of this plan, prepared in consultation with the Bedouin, could take the sting out of their forced displacement. Most of the 2,400 Bedouin whom Israel intends to drive out of the area east of Jerusalem are refugees, driven previously out of the Negev Desert in the early 1950s to the West Bank. Since the 1970s, IDF regulations and building plans in the settlements caused them to be displaced a number of times from the areas where they dwelled, took their sheep to graze, and made a living.

In a letter dealing with this issue, which Leker sent on September 12 to Defense Minister Ehud Barak (yet to be answered ), he stated that "My clients did not agree to relocating their dwelling place, but given the power relations between them and the local Israeli authorities, they requested to be involved in choosing the place and the conditions of the site to which they will be evacuated - if at the end of the day and as a consequence of legal proceedings they are forcefully evacuated... Following negotiations over the years between the relevant officials at the Civil Administration, my clients' position was accepted, according to which they must not be settled in territories over which the local councils of Abu Dis and/or Sawahra, or local Palestinian residents, have property claims, due to the possibility that when these areas are handed over to the Palestinian Authority following a land settlement, those property rights will be restored."

Leker was also involved in the process which led at the end of the 1990s to the establishment of the permanent settlement near the Abu Dis dump, at which 200 families, deported from the area intended for the Ma'ale Adumim expansion, were settled. Following his petition to the High Court of Justice at that time against the deportation (and against settling the Bedouin families in shipping containers, lacking any infrastructure ), negotiations were begun on building infrastructure and suitable housing and compensating the families for the forced relocation.

At the Civil Administration's supreme council for planning, the plan for expanding the permanent village at Abu Dis was already approved in 2006, but apparently the plan has not been published, thus has not yet received legal standing. Members of the Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights NGO believe the delay in publication has to do with the safety and sanitary dangers involved in the planned neighborhood's proximity to the garbage dump (a distance of some 150 meters in all ).

In a discussion of the program at the Administration's planning committee, one of the participants said that the Abu Dis dump is "a disaster in the making that could cause a great deal of damage, and I don't want to find myself faced with a committee of investigation." At the same discussion, in August 2006, the opinion was voiced that "it is irresponsible to put people there." Nevertheless, the plan was approved. Its implementation will cause crowded living conditions, because the families who previously agreed to move there will not have space left for settling their children's future families.

Lecker said last week that the plan in question is "in all senses a forced transfer, contrary to agreements, of permanent residents living in Area C from the day they were born. It is intended to cut them off from the area, absolutely against their wishes. No one wants to move to the Abu Dis village, and those living there refuse to accept them." Leker claims that ever since the separation fence route in the Ma'ale Adumim area was canceled (following another one of his petitions to the High Court of Justice, on behalf of the Sawahra and Abu Dis councils ), the area's Israeli settlements, in collaboration with the Civil Administration, have been acting to achieve the canceled route's additional objective: deporting the Bedouin and expanding the area's settlements. "They brought about the cancellation of plans which were also wrong in terms of international law, but contained a certain balance and provided for the Bedouin population's welfare, by creating a reasonable alternative dwelling area in the territory on which they live," added Leker.

The Bedouin Protection Committee told the representatives of the Palestinian Authority this week that if Israel intends to deport them from the areas in which they live now, "then they should return us to the Negev, where we came from." In addition to the reasons cited by Leker, they refuse to move to the village near the dump since conversations with the place's current residents have revealed that the relocation caused most of them to give up their shepherd way of life.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories stated in response that "as part of the attempts to find a solution for the Bedouin population in Judea and Samaria, a number of alternatives are being examined, with the aim of improving the quality of life for the entire population of Area C, building proper infrastructure, and communicating with the tribes." In addition it was emphasized that "the process of assessing the alternatives is still underway, and when conditions are ripe, a procedure of deliberation with the tribe leaders will be embarked on."