On Passover, Settlers Take Over for State Inspectors to Mark Bedouin Structures for Demolition

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinian laborers working at a construction site in a new housing project in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem, February 7, 2017.
Palestinian laborers working at a construction site in a new housing project in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem, February 7, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Five volunteer jeep owners from settlements near Ma’aleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, are watching the Bedouin encampments in the area to thwart any construction while Civil Administration inspectors are on Passover vacation.

They answered the call of a group known as the Jerusalem Periphery Forum. According to a forum activist who asked to remain anonymous, the five are working in shifts of a few hours each.

On weekends, when the Civil Administration inspectors are also off duty, Yariv Aharoni of Kfar Adumim, and the forum’s coordinator of issues involving land, is the inspector. However, during Passover week, Aharoni is on partial vacation and so the forum called for volunteer backup.

The Jerusalem Periphery Forum includes representatives of the settlements of Alon, Kfar Adumim, Nofei Prat and Mitzpeh Yeriho, and a representative of the Binyamin Regional Council. According to the activist, the forum works “against the illegal Palestinian-European construction in this area and along Route 1 between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.”

Aharoni is the only member of the forum who is on salary. He also operates a multicopter drone that the forum purchased a few years ago, and uses it to take aerial photos of the Bedouin encampments.

According to the forum activist, during Purim vacation two years ago, the Bedouin put up 22 prefabricated dwellings in various encampments, which the official called “outposts.”

Those structures were donated by European organizations. After that, the forum decided to fund special manpower from the settlements to oversee what was happening in the encampments. The oversight, according to the forum activist, serves as a deterrent, even if not every structure built without a permit is discovered in real time.

“The volunteers in their jeeps immediately report any deviation to the Civil Administration and the police, so that even if someone built, it will be destroyed immediately without the need to be dragged to High Court of Justice petitions,” he said. “The European Union also understands that this is a wasted investment for it and [its representatives] go build elsewhere,” he added.

According to the activist, the forum counts 2016 as a signal success because it was the first year ending with a net minus in the number of Bedouin structures erected – “20 fewer than in 2015.”

The activist said the forum was working “to increase enforcement of the Civil Administration and mainly to move the Bedouin to the permanent towns the state is planning for them. We work mainly through parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activities and public pressure. But in the end, it is the decision of the prime minister and the defense minister.”

About 20 Bedouin communities have been living for decades in the area east of Jerusalem, even before the settlements were founded.

When the settlements were established, the Bedouin’s herding space was restricted and some of the communities were expelled to allow the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim to expand. Israel developed master plans for the settlements, but did not permit even one encampment to connect to water and electricity lines or build clinics and schools. Lacking a master plan, any structure, even a toilet or solar panels, is considered illegal.

For the past decade, the Civil Administration has said it will be concentrating the Bedouin in permanent towns near the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, such as the town established near the Abu Dis garbage dump.

The Bedouin oppose the move to permanent towns and the European Union has defined this plan, including demolitions and construction bans, as forced uprooting, which is prohibited by international law.