For the Israeli Government, the Tragedy of the Bedouin Jahalin Tribe Is a Success

The High Court of Justice will hear a petition from the Bedouin against their forced transfer to a nearby village; four families have asked the EU to intervene.

A child walking past the debris of destroyed homes in Jahalin last week.
AFP

A lawyer from the State Prosecutor’s Office is due to tell the justices of the High Court of Justice on Monday that the village of al-Jabal, also known as Arab al-Jahalin, on the outskirts of the East Jerusalem town al-Azaria, is a success story.

The village, which the Israeli Civil Administration (a hybrid institution of the ministry of Defense and the army) has hooked up to public infrastructure, is officially occupied by some 1,500 Bedouin, most of whom were removed from their previous encampments, starting in the 1990s, to make way for the expansion of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

A scheduled strike by government prosecutors, may yet prevent the prosecutor from appearing before he court, but the justices have already read about the success story in the government’s response to a petition by the Abu Nawar Bedouin community against the orders to demolish its structures and the Civil Administration’s plan to forcibly remove them to al-Jabal.

Signed by attorney Yitzhak Bart of the State Prosecutor’s Office, the state’s response features a nice picture of the village, including a bleached mosque minaret. Another picture shows the plots of land prepared for the Abu Nawar community on the far side of the road.

Bart’s response relies on information from Yuval Turgeman, the Civil Administration’s director of Bedouin affairs. Bart also explains the process of dialogue with the Bedouin conducted by former Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. (res.) Dov Sedaka since January 2015

A woman from the Arab Jahalin Bedouin community carries a mirror after the demolition of her home in the West Bank Bedouin camp of al-Khan al-Ahmar on April 7, 2016.
AFP

But the Bedouin of Abu Nawar – four large extended families from the Jahalin tribe, comprising some 600 people in 108 nuclear families – know al-Jabal from other angles. This week they sent an open letter to Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, in which they asked the EU to intervene against their removal, rather than making do with condemnations.

This is how they describe al-Jabal: “Between 1997 and 2000, Israel forcefully moved some 150 Bedouin families to a crowded urban area built on a waste disposal site. Many of them are now unemployed, because they have no land to graze their sheep and they lost their Bedouin culture and tradition. It is clear to us that we can expect a similar fate.”

What the representative of the community. Abu Imad Jahalin, summarized in two sentences is explained in greater detail in some 40 depressing pages of a joint field study conducted by the Bimkom nonprofit organization and UNWRA in 2013. Their findings regarding the severe social and economic implications of uprooting of the Jahalin to al-Jabal are still true today. The justices can find the study on Bimkom’s website.

Bart writes that “experts in the Civil Administration [feel] the main reason for the opposition of the residents to the new plan is the pressure put on them by the Palestinian Authority and other bodies, whose interests are not the same as the interests of the residents living in the area.”

Shlomo Lecker, the lawyer who previously represented the Abu Nawar and with whom Sedaka discussed some options of relocating, was replaced by attorney Tawfiq Jabarin, who prepared the present petition to the High Court.

It’s possible to infer from Bart’s response that the involvement of the PA is something negative. Responding to the petition’s description of the miserable living conditions of the present community – due to Israel’s refusal to include the Bedouin community in its master plans and to hook them up to infrastructure – he wrote: “Incidentally, ... a large part of these claims need to be directed to the Palestinian Authority, because the petitioners are registered as residents of the authority.”

To that, Jabarin will say: The Abu Nawar community has been in its present location since before the PA was established. They lived in the area before 1967 and arrived there after the Jahalin were expelled from where they lived originally, Tel Arad. They live in Area C, under full Israeli administrative responsibility. Israel does not allow the PA to deal with matters of the living conditions of the residents there.

On February 20, for example, inspectors from the Civil Administration arrived at midnight and confiscated seven trailer homes – paid for by the EU – 38 tables, 18 chairs, three portable toilets, a community tent and a tarpaulin brought just the day before to serve as a school.

On February 24, the Palestinian Education Ministry supplied the community with two tents for pupils, 15 tables and 30 chairs. On February 26 Civil Administration and IDF forces came, dismantled the tents and confiscated them. The tables and chairs are safe: Residents managed to store them elsewhere.

Bart wrote that the land on which the Abu Nawar community is currently living does not belong to them. True, but when they arrived in the area after being expelled from the Negev, the land was known as belonging to the village of Abu Dis, both public and private. The Bedouins received the consent of the large village to live on its land.

They never imagined that Israel would reach them there too in 1967, or that it would expropriate some 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) from the residents of al-Azaria, Abu Dis, Isawiyah, al-Tur, Khan al-Akhmar and Nebi Moussa in the mid-1970s. That land would be allocated to Ma’ale Adumim. Maybe Jabarin will mention that a few residents of Abu Nawar were expelled at the time from the hill on which the first neighborhoods of the settlement were built.

Jabarin will ask for permisson to present alternative planning principles that were prepared over the past seven months by Bimkom, working closely with the Abu Nawar community and with funding from the Spanish government’s agency for international cooperation. The alternative plans were presented to foreign diplomats, including representatives of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, last Wednesday.

“We are proposing to recognize the Bedouin village as a form of unique settlement, with clear cultural and spatial characteristics, similar to the other forms of settlement such as the kibbutz, communal settlement, workers moshav or cooperative moshav,” states the Bimkom document. “There is a need to take the internal logic of the Bedouin community into consideration and plan on the basis of deep understanding of this social and cultural logic.”

The Civil Administration planned to allocate an area of 55 dunams for the 600 people of Abu Nawar. For that purpose, it prepared 36 half-dunam plots, on each.

“This does not match the Bedouin lifestyle and there is no vision for the future here,” says architect Alon Cohen-Lifshitz of Bimkom.

Instead, the organization proposes allocating plots of two dunams for every nuclear family – and their sheep – on a total area of some 500 dunams. The proposal takes into account the natural population growth of up to some 230 families over the next 20 years, including taking sheep out to pasture, and land for workshops and assuming a gradual, not coerced, change in living styles.

Three members of the community and representatives of Bimkom presented the alternative planning principles to the Civil Administration at the end of March. They were told that a large part of the area included in their framework was inside the municipal boundaries of Ma’ale Adumim, and was actually intended for housing as part of the E1 plan frozen because of opposition by the United States.

In other words, a place where the government decided not to allow construction for the Bedouin is intended for Israeli Jews. Cohen-Lifshitz adds that the plan for expanding al-Jabal, where Israel hopes to move the Abu Nawar and other communities, is also partially in the area of the plan. Originally the E1 plan allocated the area for public buildings for Israelis.

What Bart’s response calls “dialogue” between residents and the Civil Administration, the resident of Abu Nawar see as a lack of consideration, pressure, pestering by the inspectors and forced removal. According to the community’s records, Sedaka has visited at least six times since April 2015 and has gone from family to family in order to convince them to move to al-Jabal. Between his visits, Civil Administration inspectors have distributed cease-work orders and demolition orders, demolished a number of structures and confiscated others.

“Abu Nawar is not the only community in danger,” wrote Abu Imad to Mogherini. “But it is at the top of the list of priorities of the Israelis because we are inside the plan to expand the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, in which we, as Palestinians, are not permitted to live.”