Bedouin Couples Seeking to Build a Home in Their Village Face Kafkaesque Nightmare, Courtesy of Israel

The state argues the couples should apply for a building permit - technically unfeasible - or relocate to the Palestinian Authority

Ahmed Jahalin and some of his sons at the Khan Al Ahmar encampment east of Jerusalem, December 24, 2015.
Amira Hass

Twenty-seven Bedouins living east of Jerusalem petitioned the High Court of Justice to let them live close to their parents, but not in the same tent. The state argued they should relocate to the Palestinian Authority.

“If the petitioners need housing, let them go to the Palestinian Authority, whose subjects they are,” Yitzhak Bart from the State Prosecutor’s Office told the court when it heard the petition earlier this month.

The attorney for the Bedouins, Shlomo Lecker, hoped the court would show young couples similar understanding as it did when suspending demolition orders for their parents’ huts and tents in previous years. But he realized the court was not going to act in their favor and withdrew the petition.

Bart told the court that the petitioners, from nine different Bedouin encampments east of Jerusalem, could leave their tribe and move to Areas A and B, which are controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Khawla and Hassan, from the Khan Al Ahmar encampment, say that even if they were willing to abandon their families, culture, way of life and livelihood and live on their own, they don’t have the money to rent or buy an apartment in the Palestinian towns. Nor do most Bedouins their age. For them, the natural solution is to live beside their parents’ and siblings’ hut or tent, as their tribe has done for decades.

The state refuses to consider this option. “If they want to build in Area C (under Israeli control), they must file an application for a building permit or go to the official in charge of the Bedouin in the Civil Administration in a bid to find a solution (with no assurance that such a solution will be found),” Bart says.

However, this is not a realistic option, because, as Bart knows, Israel has never developed master plans for the Bedouin communities in their current locations, and issues building permits only to owners of the land. The Bedouin live on land they lease from Palestinian villages, or public land.

“I’m not asking for a stone or concrete house, all I ask is to let us build them their own tin hut or tent,” Hassan’s father Ahmed Jahalin said this week. "We have already given up on the traditional custom to have a tent put up for a newlywed couple some 100 meters from their parents’ tent," he said.

The couple has given up on the traditional custom to have a tent put up some 100 meters from their parents’ tent.

“Why are we any different?” asks Ahmed Jahalin, looking at the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim. Three of his sons are among the petitioners.

In 1958, long before that settlement was built, Ahmed was born here, in Khan al Ahmar. His parents, from Be’er Sheva, had settled here after being evicted from the Negev following Israel’s War of Independence.

“I was married here, my children were born here,” he says.

“The honorable court already ruled in the past that ‘the right to education does not mean the right to build illegally.’ Likewise, the right to family life does not mean the right to build illegally,” Bart, from the State Prosecutor's office, told the court.

Lecker, who has represented Bedouin communities in the West Bank for more than twenty years, hoped to persuade the court that the right to family life and the principle of equality among human beings require mitigating the harsh building restrictions imposed on non-Jews in Area C.

The group of petitioners he represented on December 14 "are not permitted to move out of their parents’ hut or tent into a housing unit of their own, due to Israel’s unreasonable, unfair and disproportionate policy,” he wrote.

Lecker quoted Avigdor Lieberman, who said to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, “we cannot suffocate ourselves — babies are born, people get married. At the very least we must provide these people with a normal way of life.” Lieberman was referring to the settlers.

“The settlers have their garbage containers lit up. We’re not allowed to light the tin hut we live in,” said Eid Khamis Jahalin, Hassan’s neighbor.

High electricity poles that supply power to Ramallah — not Ma’aleh Adumim — are set on the western hill overlooking the encampment. But the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration forbids the Bedouin from hooking up to the power grid. A few months ago, the administration confiscated a few solar panels the community in Khan al Ahmar received from the development organization set up by Salam Fayyad, after he left his post as the Palestinian Authority prime minister. A settlers’ security car took the solar panels to the Civil Administration inspectors.

Because they were built without a permit, all the tin huts and tents the petitioners live in with their extended families have been condemned for demolition by the Civil Administration. Many of them were set up to replace huts and tents that had worn out over the years. The High Court of Justice suspended the demolition orders following Lecker’s previous petitions, but on the condition that the petitioners refrain from expanding their existing living quarters.

The Civil Administration has been promising the court in the past decade that it is preparing housing alternatives for the Bedouin and will allocate land for them to build permanent townships near the Palestinian Authority areas.

But the major plan for Ramat Nu'eimeh, to be built north of Jericho, has been put on hold, mainly due to the Bedouin’s objections. Nobody consulted them. Meanwhile, youngsters who grow up and get married and want to raise a family have to share a hut or tent with their parents and siblings.

“I don’t have to hear what my son and his wife are doing and saying, and they shouldn’t have to hear what my wife and I are saying and doing,” said Khamis.

Lecker asked the court to allow restricted construction, which would solve the young couples’ problem temporarily. The justices — Court President Miriam Naor, Neal Hendel and Uzi Vogelman — stated it was clearly not only about the 27 petitioners, Lecker said.

Reminding the court that it agreed not to demolish the parents’ housing, Lecker asked why their children should not be allowed the same rights. He said not allowing the young couples to build leaves them no choice but to build without a permit, receive demolition orders and petition the court again.

“Don’t threaten us with illegal construction,” Supreme Court President Naor said. Lecker understood it was a lost cause and withdrew the petition.