The residents of Jabal Al-Baba Bedouin community, east of Occupied Jerusalem held a rally a week after receiving an eviction notice from the Israeli authorities. The protest, in cooperation with the Avazz organisation and international activists aimed to send the message they are refusing Israeli orders and are determined to remain on their land.
The eviction notice was delivered by Israeli forces and staff of the Organization and Construction Department in the Israeli Civil Administration on November 16. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the order is part of the so-called E1 project, designed to connect the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, adjacent to Jabal Al-Baba, to the city of Jerusalem, severing the West Bank in two pieces and cutting communication between the north and south.
Avazz Community Organiser, Fadi Quran said the recent eviction notice comes with concrete threats. “If they don’t leave the community they will bulldoze everything, make the children homeless and arrest all the men,” Quran explained.
Quran believes the land Jabal Al-Baba is built on is a strategic area for Israel, as it is one of the only hilltops near Jerusalem they are yet to build settlements on. “Israel wants to cleanse the Palestinians from this area, and surround Jerusalem with a ring of settlements so there will be no Palestinian State,” Quran said. He went on to say these demolitions “are part of Israeli systematic policy.”
Jabal Al-Baba is home to 57 families totalling 320 people, half of which are children. The structures to be demolished number 100 buildings, including those housing animals, and 58 residential homes.
As documented in a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitatian Affairs (OCHA), 14 demolition orders have been issued for Jabal Al-Baba, of these, four demolitions have been executed since 1988.
Hassan Mazarah, 29, lives in the community with his wife and three children. The last time his house was demolished by Israeli forces was a year and a half ago.
“The fear of [our house being destroyed] is something we live with every single day,” Mazarah said, standing out the front of his home. “Recently, it has become more real, at any moment the Israelis can come and demolish it.”
The most recent military order issued states each property owner is required to evacuate their houses within eight days of receiving the declaration. With this calculation, bulldozers are set to arrive by November 24. Mazarah is steadfast in his position. “My message to the world is we are here to remain… if you demolish [our] land, we will rebuild.”
The Palestinians living in Jabal Al-Baba were first displaced in the Nakba of 1948 from their village of Arab al-Jahalin in the Negev Desert, now lying within the borders of Israel. “This is a shame for humanity, where people are going to be displaced for a second time, under threats and guns and power from Israel. Our only dream is to herd sheep and live in this land,” Mazarah expressed.
OCHA stated the Israeli authorities have justified the E1 settlement plan on the basis the Jabal Al-Baba residents lack rights over the land and the residents living conditions will improve if they move.
Mazarah said the community is preparing for the coming demolition by coming together and solidifying their commitment to rebuild their homes. “Bedouin life is simple, belongings are not difficult to replace. The bigger problem is, when the soldiers come and destroy our houses, they kill our dreams,” Mazarah said sadly. “The last house they destroyed my children were born in. So now when you sit and think in this [new] house, you cannot remember all of the memories. They killed our memories.”
Mohammed is the oldest son of Mazarah, now only three and a half years old. Mazarah said “he was very small” at the time of the last demolition, two years old. “When the soldiers destroyed our house he didn’t understand what happened, but now he always says to me, ‘I can fight Israel,’” Mazarah said, with a smile on his face.
Mazarah’s son already knows the only way to fight is by not moving from their land and continuing to rebuild their houses. “That’s fighting Israel. The fight between us is about the land. When you stay here that’s the biggest resistance,” Mazarah explained his family’s stance.
Each time the Jabal Al-Baba community have their houses demolished, they try to rebuild them in the same day. In winter though, it often takes longer, sometimes a week but no longer than ten days. In the meantime, the families who have lost their homes are taken in and sheltered by their aunts and uncles.
Mazarah believes Israel is taking advantage of the increasing political tension within the Middle East currently, as well as the backing of Donald Trump, “allowing Israel to continue their violations.” Quran agrees with this. “[Israel] has been planning these demolitions for a long time. Now they see an opportunity with the chaos in the Middle East, they feel there is a window now,” Quran said.
The silence of the international community is frustrating for those in Palestine fighting Israel’s illegal settlement expansion. “In 2014, the European Union told [Israel] the expansion of settlements is a red line, and if they crossed it, they would face sanctions,” Quran explained. These consequences haven’t occurred.
Not only are the settlements themselves illegal under international law, but the relocation of entire Bedouin communities qualify as forced evictions and transfer, illegal under international humanitarian law and human rights law. Quran says the international community needs to enforce this red line and pressure Israel to halt their illegal policies.