Jahalin Bedouin student studying in al-Khan al-Ahmar, near Jerusalem.
(Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Jahalin.org)
Israel has announced construction of a large-scale village near Jericho that planners are calling a “dump site” for Palestinian Bedouins residing outside of Jerusalem.
Mondoweiss became aware of the relocation after the Israeli daily Ma’ariv published a locality in the Jordan Valley was given a greenlight for construction. The initial Israeli report presented the village, “Nueimah,” as a rare, but innocuous example of new legal construction in the West Bank set to accommodate overpopulation. The locality will “make land pirated by Palestinians legal holdings” said a member of the government to Ma’ariv, explaining that the village was for those inhabiting areas of the West Bank without Israeli verified deeds, such as the Jahalin. Representatives for the Bedouin are now awaiting the customary publication of a detailed notice, which will open the 60-day period for public filings.
However, the program was first documented last fall as a transfer plan. The Civil Administration, the Israeli bureaucracy handling building permits in the West Bank, approached several communities near the E1 area, a land corridor between West Bank settlements and Jerusalem, and inadvertently left behind plans of their intentions. While officials were meeting with residents in one of the villages, al-Khan al-Ahmar, a Jahalin Bedouin community of historically nomadic peoples from the Negev, but forcibly moved in the 1950s, they left behind a document outlining the plans for transfer. Now kept rolled up in one of the village tents (shown to Mondoweiss earlier this year), the marked map highlights the proposal to moved the community.
A map showing plans for Nueimah. (Image: Bimkom)
Separately the Israeli planning rights group Bimkom obtained a detailed scheme of Nueimah. Thus far 800 plots were allocated for the use of 400-500 families. And when the Civil Administration visited al-Khan al-Ahmar, it was these plots that were offered free of charge to the Jahalin.
“It’s totally motivated by political inspirations to try to push as many Bedouins into Area C, near Area A,” said Shlomo Lecker, an Israeli human rights attorney representing al-Khan al-Ahmar. Lecker has been working with the Jahalin Bedouin for over a decade, but said the Nueimah plan is the most far-reaching yet. According to Lecker, the proposal to move the Jahalin was initated 13 years ago. At the time residents petitioned the high court and eventually the plan was rejected. But subsequent transfers have been carried out. Two years ago the Jahalin and Lecker worked with government planners to develop a suitable new locality near Abu Dis. But the Nueimah plan appears to be a comprehensive effort that could relocate the 3,000 remaining Bedouins.
But the Bedouins do not want to leave—and for good reason. Although in their current location they face demolitions if buildings are constructed from materials other than shanty tents, there is no electricity or running water, and the only sewage that runs there is the spillover from nearby settlements, the Jahalin have managed to supplement their lack of grazing lands with United Nations food parcels and labor outside of the community. By comparison the new site offers no terrain suitable for subsidence living and is far from aid serivces and employment.
“It’s up on the top of a mountain with no shade, no work, 46 degrees (114 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer,” said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, an advocacy officer with the Jahalin Association, al-Khan al-Ahmar. Some of the land belongs to other Palestinian villages and “it’s next to the main Palestinian preventive security compound on one side, the village of Nueimah, an Israeli settlement, and an Israeli checkpoint,” she continued.
Because Nueimah is enclosed by structures, the Jahalin have wholly rejected the plan. Instead they are working with Lecker to develop an alternative that allows them to stay, albeit legally and with access to roads and public services.
Strategy of annexation
Aside from the coveted proximity to Jerusalem, Nueimah is part of a now defunct Oslo-era agreement to transfer Palestinian communities from Area B and C to Area A. Back in the time of negotiations when the delineated zones of security control (Area A, B and C) were established, one of the stated goals was to overtime shift territory to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in preparation of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel. All together up until 1999, 17% of Area B and C was transferred to Palestinian civil control. By relegating these communities into Area A, Israel achieved the dual goal of reducing the number of Palestinians in Area C for future land grabs or swaps, and fulfilling the Oslo tenet of limited Palestinian soverignity. The Nueimah plan sets the stage for a future territory swap where Palestinians will lose out on residency rights to geographically key land in exchange for a wasteland in the desert.
In 1967 there were 350,000 Palestinians living in what is now Area C. Today there are only 150,000 left, a number that Israeli politicians have mused as acceptable to integrate into the Jewish state. But Godfrey-Goldstein warms, “forced displacement unless it’s a military necessity is absolutely forbidden under the Geneva Convention.”