Settler documentation of illegal construction by Bedouin in the West Bank has led to heightened enforcement and demolitions in Bedouin communities that have slowed their growth, according to photographs and other data obtained by Haaretz.
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A substantial portion of the Bedouin population in the West Bank lives in the Mishor Adumim area and so-called E1 zone between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. From aerial photographs taken by the Forum of Jerusalem Area Suburbs, a group supported by the area’s settlements, growth of these Bedouin communities has slowed considerably over the past two years.
Photographs by the group and state agencies show that in 2012 there were 12 Bedouin communities along Route 1 between the Mishor Adumim junction and the settlement of Mitzpeh Yericho with a total of 412 structures. In the next two years, there was a sharp increase in illegal construction, with 2014 photographs showing 729 structures in these communities.
Over the past two years, however, something changed. Photos from this year show only 42 more structures compared to 2014, with some communities clearly having lost some constructions. In the compound near the Mishor Adumim junction, there were 26 structures in 2012, 66 in 2014 and only 61 this year.
Local residents are not surprised, saying that pressure by settlers on the Civil Administration in the West Bank has led to more demolitions.
“There’s a unit of settlers who come each week to take photos, including inside our homes,” said Jamil Hamdin, who lives in a precariously built tin and wood shack in Wadi Katif, a few hundred meters from Mitzpeh Yericho. “They enter our homes without speaking. Many families are very angry because they don’t respect our special way of life.” Being photographed, he said, “isn’t okay with the Bedouin way of life.”
“We are here since 1948; we left the south because of the war,” said Hamdin. “I built my house in 2010 after I got married. The last demolition was on June 5. Five families lost their homes.”
A’id Hamis Jahalin, from Khan al-Ahmar, a nearby group of Bedouin communities, concurs that Bedouin are building less because pressure by right-wing groups on the Civil Administration has led to more systematic enforcement.
“[The settlers] pass by sometimes, they have projectors and Jeeps and loudspeakers. They bring a drone and it sees everything. It comes and photographs and this brings the police. And they demolish. This is their job,” he said. He lives with his wife and seven children in three structures that he built 30 years ago.
The Forum of Jerusalem Area Suburbs, which gets support from settlements in the area, including Nofei Prat, Mitzpeh Yericho, Kfar Adumim and Alon, is proud of how effective its activities have been.
“We do field work and then exert pressure, pressure at the highest levels. We raise this with the cabinet, at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subcommittee and pressure the Civil Administration and the police,” said Yaniv Aharoni, the organization’s field coordinator, who operates the drone.
The group's work is not being done out of a devotion to building and planning laws. The settlers see the illegal Bedouin construction as land seizures aimed at creating a buffer between the settlements. Moreover, the communities situated in the E1 zone are seen as interfering with efforts to build settlements in that sensitive region – something that would severely hamper the mapping out of any future Palestinian state.
According to the human rights group B’tselem, from the beginning of the year through June 30 there were 168 residential structures demolished in Area C of the West Bank, which is under total Israeli control, more than were demolished in all of 2015. However, only some of the constructions belonged to the Bedouin.
The European Union, which helps build housing for Bedouin in the area, confirms that Israel has intensified its demolitions recently. EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen told a Knesset conference last week that 91 structures it had built in Area C were dismantled by Israel since the beginning of the year.
According to the Civil Administration, 40 files have been opened against Bedouin for alleged illegal building since the beginning of 2014, but only two demolitions have actually been carried out. Both the Bedouin and the Forum of Jerusalem Area Suburbs report far more.
“The Civil Administration is advancing a plan to standardize the homes of the Palestinian Bedouin population that lives in the area involved to resolve the issue of illegal construction, which was formulated after meetings with community representatives," said an organization official. "As part of the plan, plots of land will be allocated to Bedouin families that will include proper residential infrastructures like water, electricity and sewerage, while preserving their character and way of life."
“In order to advance the plan and to conduct a dialogue with the Bedouin population, former Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. (res.) Dov Tzadka has been appointed to liaise with the population,” the official added.