[Photos by Tanya Habjouqa. Text by Francesca Albanese.]
On 2 December 2012, in a cynically prompt move the day after Palestine’s successful bid for upgraded non-member observer state of the United Nations, Israel announced its plans to spearhead settlement expansion in the E1 area in the Jerusalem periphery. By constructing approximately 3500 new settler housing units in this area, Israel would fulfill the long harbored plan to connect the illegal settlements east of Jerusalem with Jerusalem itself, creating a large Jewish-only continuum between settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. This plan, in defiance of international law prohibiting the settlement of occupied territory and the acquisition of territory by force, would split the West Bank into two disconnected halves, and irrevocably separate it from East Jerusalem. Implementation of the E1 plan would also involve forcibly removing the Palestinian herder communities, mainly Bedouin from the Jahalin tribe, living in the area.
In the implementation of this euphemistically labeled “relocation plan,” around 2300 Bedouin living in the East Jerusalem periphery would be forced to move to a site next to the Abu Dis municipal garbage dump or, alternatively, to the Jericho area. The Bedouin refuse these plans and remain resolute in their intention to remain where they are. They also insist on preserving their traditional culture. Bedouin ancestral lifestyle in Palestine has been continuously undermined throughout the last century by multiple counts of displacement that began with their expulsion from the Naqab desert (now in Israel) in 1948-49 at the hands of Zionist paramilitary forces. Since its military occupation began in 1967, Israel forcibly displaced various Bedouin communities from their homes several times.
Targeted Bedouin communities already face a dire humanitarian situation due to Israel’s prolonged military occupation and its related hardships. By refusing to grant any construction permits to these communities, Israel forces them to live in shacks, which lack basic amenities. These housing conditions stand in stark contrast with the luxurious homes belonging to government-backed settlers living atop confiscated Palestinian lands. Israeli military forces do not tolerate even the aluminum shacks that Bedouin communities use as makeshift homes. Consequently, Israeli forces routinely demolish Bedouin homes along with their animal shelters, water cisterns, as well as traditional collective ovens, thus further undermining the communities’ livelihoods.
Bedouin communities here pursue a traditional way of life based on shepherding, even though their access to pastures and markets is limited. Access to health care and education is also a major struggle. For years, Bedouin children had to cross a busy highway and then walk or hitchhike the twenty-two kilometers to Jericho to get to the nearest school.
The separation Wall, together with the associated system of movement restrictions imposed by Israel, further hampers access to water, grazing land, fodder, markets, and basic services essential to Bedouin survival. Additionally, ongoing settlement expansion and intensifying settler violence against these communities have caused tremendous distress to them, especially among the youth and the children. Violence, harassment, provocation, and incitement by armed Israeli settlers, often with the complicity of the Israeli military, have become part of Bedouin childrens’ daily reality. In 2011, the UN Secretary General reported that between September 2010 to May 2011 settlers were responsible for five deaths (including three children) and more than two hundred and seventy cases of injury of Palestinians. Settlement expansion, settler violence, movement restrictions, and destruction of agricultural livelihoods have all worked to displace these communities.. This is notwithstanding the fact that as an Occupying power, Israel has a legal obligation to protect Palestinian civilians at all times and to administer the territory for their benefit.
Palestinians in this area have heard of “relocation” rumors since as early as 2009. They knew that they would eventually be transferred to a site near the main Jerusalem dump. This site has been heavily criticized for being polluted and hazardous to human health. In the late nineties, Israeli authorities relocated some two hundred Bedouin families to the same area to facilitate the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim. This relocation has resulted in deteriorated health and living standards, loss of livelihood, and diminished tribal cohesion among those displaced communities. In light of Israel’s announcement to implement its settlement expansion, today an additional two thousand three hundred Palestinians, eighty percent of whom are Bedouin refugees, and sixty-six percent of whom are children, are poised to face a similar fate.
These photographs by Tanya Habjouqa depict the tiny village of Khan Al-Ahmar, which is striving for its very survival. Khan Al-Ahmar is home to twenty-two Jahalin families and is located in the East Jerusalem periphery where steep mountain slopes plummet to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim dominates the hill above the village. Recently, the Jahalin in Khan Al-Ahmar built a primary school out of discarded tires, hay, and mud in the community’s yard. Israel swiftly responded by issuing demolition orders. In October 2012, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled against the school destruction, but the community as a whole still faces forced displacement by the Israeli army. The Jahalin around Jerusalem are not the only Palestinians under threat of forced displacement. In July 2011, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) communicated its intention to ‘relocate’ Palestinian communities throughout Area C of the West Bank, where Israel retains full control over security and civil matters. If completed, this operation will result in the displacement of nearly 27,000 Palestinian herders, mainly Bedouin, from the Jerusalem periphery, the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills where they have lived over the past sixty years.
In 2011, the Bedouin in the Jerusalem periphery created a Protection Committee to resist the displacement threats against them and to coordinate their advocacy. In a new appeal launched on 6 December 2012, the Protection Committee urged the international community to stand by the threatened Bedouin communities and against the announced Israeli plan to relocate and further displace them. Their demands are firm. The Protection Committee reiterates that they will not move unless it is to return to their tribal territory of origin in the Negev, where they lived until expelled by Israel. Pending such return they demand to live in safety and dignity, to freely conduct their lives in accordance to their traditions, and to ensure an education for their children, free from fear and persecution.
 Secretary General Report on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan, (16 September 2011), 3 and 12. UN-Doc. A/66/364.