Twenty-six Bedouin communities petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday asking that a plan to build a new Bedouin town north of Jericho be frozen.
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Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, which is behind the plan, intends to forcibly relocate three Bedouin tribes there once the town, called Talet Nueima, is built.
Wednesday is the deadline for filing objections to the plan with the Civil Administration’s planning office. Dozens of objections have already been submitted, and dozens more are expected to arrive Wednesday, mainly from Bedouin communities and from Palestinian villages located near the proposed town.
The court petition, filed by Bedouin communities near Jerusalem that are slated to be relocated to Talet Nueima, argued that they were never consulted about the plan. The Bedouin say the plan gives no consideration to their traditional way of life or sources of livelihood. But unlike the objections filed with the planning office, the petition focused not on flaws in the plan itself, but on procedural flaws in the planning process.
The plan calls for relocating some 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes to Talet Nueima. This is the largest plan the Civil Administration has drafted for West Bank Palestinians since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
If the plan comes to fruition, the evacuation of the Bedouin tribes would free up additional lands for settlement construction, especially in the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. Two of the tribes currently live east of Jerusalem and the third in the Jordan Valley.
The plan would force the three tribes to live together, in violation of their customs. Moreover, concentrating them north of Jericho would affect all the nearby Palestinian villages economically, environmentally, demographically and culturally.
Both Bedouin and Palestinians fear Talet Nueima would become an island of poverty whose residents would have no opportunities for employment in the area. They also fear there would be social friction and competition over scarce water resources.
The Bedouin are the weakest members of Palestinian society, with no influence over internal Palestinian politics. But because of this plan’s impact on nearby Palestinian communities, the battle against it is getting more support than usual from other Palestinians. The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, a Palestinian NGO, submitted objections to the plan on behalf of several Palestinian towns, and attorneys for the Palestinian Authority have also filed objections.
Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights submitted objections on behalf of the Bedouin, as did lawyers Shlomo Lecker and Michal Luft.
Luft and Lecker are the ones who filed Monday’s High Court petition. The Bedouin decided to file the petition, rather than making do with fighting the plan via objections to the planning office, after discovering by chance that the Civil Administration recently developed a procedure for involving the Palestinian population in its planning processes. The head of the Civil Administration signed off on that procedure on November 9, one day before the Talet Nueima plan was opened for objections. In the attorneys’ view, that constitutes an indirect admission that no such consultative process occurred regarding Talet Nueima.
In their petition, Luft and Lecker wrote that in the past few years, they have repeatedly sought to arrange meetings with Israeli planning authorities so the latter could hear the Bedouins’ views, but to no avail. They charged that the Civil Administration purposely hid the plan from the Bedouin until it had to be published to allow objections.
The Civil Administration insists that the Bedouin’s views were heard, and that the plan takes their needs into account.
The court gave the state 30 days to respond to the petition, but didn’t issue an injunction to freeze the plan.