Israeli Minister Planned Eviction of West Bank Bedouin 40 Years Ago, Document Reveals

Now agriculture minister, then settler activist, Uri Ariel was already planning in the 1970s the eviction of Bedouin living east of Jerusalem that is taking place now in Khan al-Ahmar

File photo, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel leading a tour in the West Bank.
The National Union Party (HaIhud HaLeumi)

Forty years ago Uri Ariel, now agriculture minister, was already planning the eviction of Bedouin living east of Jerusalem. This emerges from a document signed by him titled, “A proposal to plan the Ma’aleh Adumim region and establish the community settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim B.”

The document outlines a plan to turn some 100,000 to 120,000 dunams (25,000 to 30,000 acres) of Palestinian land into an area of Jewish settlement and develop it as a “Jewish corridor,” as he put it, from the coast to the Jordan River. In fact, a large part of the plan has been executed, except for the eviction of all the area’s Bedouin.

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Now the Civil Administration and the police are expediting the demolition of the homes of the Jahalin in Khan al-Ahmar. This is one of approximately 25 Bedouin communities in the area that have become a flagship of the Bedouin resistance in the West Bank’s Area C against the efforts by the Israeli occupation to uproot them, gather them in a few compounds adjacent to Area A, and impose a semi-urban lifestyle on them.

Khan al-Ahmar, Friday, July 6, 2018.
Majdi Mohammed.AP

The boundaries of the area that Ariel sets for his plan are the Palestinian villages of Hizme, Anata, Al-Azariya and Abu Dis to the west, the hills overlooking the Jordan Valley to the east, Wadi Qelt to the north and the Kidron Valley and Horkania Valley to the south. “In the area there are many Bedouin involved in the cultivation of land,” he writes, contrary to the claims voiced today by settlers that the Bedouin only recently popped up and “took over” the land.

But Ariel has a solution: “Since the area is used by the military and a large part of the industry there serves the defense establishment, the area must be closed to Bedouin settlement and evacuated.”

This document, exposed here for the first time, was found by Dr. Yaron Ovadia in the Kfar Adumim archives when he was doing research for a book he’s writing about the Judean Desert. Ovadia wrote his doctorate about the Jahalin tribe.

“Since [the area] is unsettled, it is now possible to plan it entirely,” Ariel wrote, about an area that constituted the land reserves for construction, industry, agriculture and grazing for the Palestinian towns and villages east of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah. “Arab urban/rural settlement is spreading at an amazing pace along the route from Jerusalem eastward, and this linear spread must be stopped immediately.”

His solutions: to build urban neighborhoods that will become part of Jerusalem and to “administratively close the area of the Arab villages by means of an appropriate plan.” This administrative closure by an appropriate plan can be discerned in the reality perpetuated by the Interim Agreement of 1995, which artificially divided the West Bank into Areas A and B, to be administered by the Palestinians, and Area C, which covers 60 percent of the West Bank, to be administered by Israel. That’s how Palestinian enclaves were created with limited development potential within a large Jewish expanse.

Ariel’s plan was apparently written between late 1978 and the beginning of 1979, and he said that as far as he recalls, it was submitted to Brig. Gen. Avraham Tamir, the IDF’s head of planning. “We have been living for three years in the existing settlement at Mishor Adumim,” writes Ariel, referring to a settlement nucleus that was established in 1975 and was portrayed as a work camp near the Mishor Adumim industrial zone. Even before Ma’aleh Adumim was officially inaugurated, Ariel was proposing to build “Ma’aleh Adumim B,” i.e., Kfar Adumim, which was established in September 1979.

Some Jahalin families were indeed evicted from their homes in 1977 and 1980. In 1994, expulsion orders were issued against dozens more, and they were evicted in the late 1990s, with the approval of the High Court of Justice. But thousands of Bedouin and their flocks remained in the area, albeit under increasingly difficult conditions as firing zones, settlements and roads reduced their grazing areas and their access to water. From the early 2000s the Civil Administration has been planning to evacuate the Bedouin and forcibly resettle them in permanent townships.

It’s tempting to present Ariel’s 40-year-old suggestions as an example of the personal and political determination that characterizes many religious Zionist activists and was facilitated by the Likud electoral victory in 1977. But it was Yitzhak Rabin’s first government that decided to build a 4,500-dunam industrial zone for Jerusalem in Khan al-Amar. In 1975 it expropriated a huge area of 30,000 dunams from the Palestinian towns and villages in the area and built a settlement there disguised as a work camp for employees of the industrial zone.

In a study (“The Hidden Agenda,” 2009) written by Nir Shalev for the nonprofit associations Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and B’tselem, he notes that the Housing and Construction Ministry’s Jerusalem district director when Ma’aleh Adumim was first being built in 1975 said that the objective behind it was political – “to block the entrance way to Jerusalem from a Jordanian threat.” But since the objective was political, it was clear that he wasn’t referring to a military threat, but to demographic growth that would require additional construction.

The planning for Ma’aleh Adumim actually began in Golda Meir’s time in the early 1970s; at the time, minister Israel Galili advised Davar reporter Hagai Eshed that it would be best if the press didn’t deal with this “exciting and interesting” issue, “because it could cause damage.” Both the Meir and Rabin governments considered the planned settlement to be part of metropolitan Jerusalem. Moreover, during Rabin’s second government, the period of the Oslo Accords, Bedouin were evicted, in the spirit of Ariel’s proposal.

Perhaps the most crucial move was actually made in 1971, when under that same government of Meir, Galili and Moshe Dayan, military order No. 418 was issued, which made drastic changes to the planning apparatus in the West Bank. The order removed the rights of Palestinian local councils to plan and build. As explained in another study by Bimkom (“The Prohibted Zone,” 2008) this prepared the legal infrastructure for the separate planning systems – the miserly, restrictive system for the Palestinians and the generous, encouraging one for the settlements. This distorted planning system refused to take into account the longtime Bedouin communities that had been expelled from the Negev and had been living in the area long before the settlements were built.

The settlement part of Ariel’s proposal succeeded because it was merely a link in a chain of plans and ideas had already been discussed when the Labor Alignment was still in power, and which were advanced by a bureaucratic infrastructure that had been in place even before 1948. Today, under a government in which Ariel’s Habayit Hayehudi party is so powerful, the open expulsion of Bedouin is possible. But the expulsion of Palestinians in general is hardly a Habayit Hayehudi invention.