The Israeli policies to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian Bedouin communities from the Jordan Valley and the area east of Jerusalem include the construction of three apartheid-style townships. Once expelled, these communities should be relocated there. However, in the last weeks Palestinian campaigners and Bedouin communities have made great advances to obstruct this plan: They have directly targeted the companies involved in the construction of the two townships currently being developed.
One of the townships is to be built next to Al Aizariya. This place should house around 2300 Palestinians living today in 20 Bedouin communities in the hills east of Jerusalem in an area of some 14 km that reaches from east Jerusalem towards Jericho and encompasses some 4800 hectares. Israel now considers this area as being within the municipal boundaries of the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adummim. This particular place raises serious health concerns due to its location next to an open dumping site.
The second one is planned in Inweimeh in the Jordan Valley, close to Jericho. This should be a space for the 12,500 people from 28 Bedouin communities that are to be expelled from the rest of the area east of Ma’ale Adumim until Jericho and from Bethlehem to Al-Ouja, north of Jericho. The land on which this township is to be built is considered ‘state land’, i.e. land without an owner, by the Israeli authorities. De facto, it is land that historically has been used by the Bedouin communities and is now taken from them to enable the expulsion from the rest of their land.
Jamal Juma’ coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign, explains how people took successful action against this scheme, the impacts on the Bedouin communities if the relocation scheme is implemented as well as the political and historical background of the relocation plans and popular struggle to resist the plans.
People power versus corporate interests
Some two weeks ago the Bedouin communities, the popular committees within Stop The Wall and Popular Coordinating Committee got to know that three Palestinian companies are involved in the relocation schemes and the construction of the townships. In the case of al Inweimeh, one company has been contracted to do the urban planning, the second for the infrastructure planning and the third for the survey of the land.
When we became aware of the fact that Palestinian business is involved in this ethnic cleansing plan, we immediately organized a first protest in front of the company doing the urban planning. We were some 50 activists and representatives of the Bedouin communities. We held a press conference right there in the street and activists sprayed graffiti on the walls of the company denouncing their involvement with this Israeli ethnic cleansing policy. We got lots of local media attention.
This action was organized just the day before an announced visit by the Israeli occupation authorities to al Aizariya to show potential bidders the locations of the second township to be built. We were there the second day as well.
Activists and representatives of the Bedouin communities confronted the Israeli authorities and the companies present. This time no business from the West Bank dared to show up. There were only three Israeli companies and one Palestinian company from the Naqab/Negev. The three Israeli companies left the area immediately when seeing the protest. After the Bedouin explained the Palestinian company that any construction would face continued protests and resistance, that company maintained they had not been ‘aware’ of the meaning of the project and would not participate in any bidding.
These protests, the support from all corners of the Palestinian spectrum for our call to stop all participation in such projects and to boycott any such company as well continuing media attention heated up the situation. In one live interview the director of the urban planning company admitted to having 28 other contracts with the Israeli civil administration, showing that we actually only touched the tip of the iceberg here. During the discussions it became as well clear that Israel is planning since 2011 these townships. This explains why the Palestinian National Authority, which since time wanted to build on this land, was never granted a single permit by Israel. In the end, the Palestinian companies claimed that they have been deceived by the Israeli Civil Administration and they didn’t know that these locations are aimed at concentrating the Bedouin that have been ethnically cleansed from their land.
We continued building an overarching consensus that the companies are to be stopped from any participation in such projects or cooperation with the Israeli occupation on our land. Finally, last week the companies gave in and asked for a meeting with all involved. During these discussions they promised to comply with our demands. We are now waiting vigilantly for their official position and will be monitoring any future actions they will be taking.
The disengagement plan: 21st century Bantustans
Approximately 28 thousand Bedouins are living in area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank. According to the Oslo Agreement, the West Bank was divided into three different types of administrative control. Area C was supposed to remain under Israeli full control until the end of the ‘transition period’ towards a Palestinian state, which was to end in 1999. 15 years later we are further away than ever from our self-determination or statehood. The real result of that classification was that Israel since then has been dealing with Area C as if it was already annexed. The occupation has been systematically suffocating the Palestinian communities to force them to leave the area and move the Palestinian population into veritable Bantustans, overlapping with what had been defined by Oslo as area B and A.
In 2002 Israel started to institutionalize and literally cement these policies on the ground by building the Apartheid Wall around Areas A and B to free area C for settlement expansion. Three years later, in 2005, Israel presented and started implementing the ‘disengagement plan’, which did not only affect Gaza but all of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Gaza was transformed into an open-air prison and the first of the Bantustans. The laboratory for the West Bank. At the same time, the infrastructure construction to build the West Bank Bantustans was accelerated as well as the expulsion of the Palestinian population from area A and the settlement expansion into these areas.
In 2007 Israel displaced 300 Bedouin families and destroyed their locations east of Ma’ale Adumim and relocated them by force on confiscated land belonging to the village of Abu Dis in area B. After pressure from EU on Israel to stop the demolitions of Bedouin communities, Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to start urban planning for Bedouin communities in area C. This would not have altered much in the Israeli plans nor in the fate of the Bedouin communities. However, Israel rejected all PA plans and has started through the so-called Israeli Civil Administration the planning for the Palestinian townships in these areas.
This massive evacuation of area A will be followed by the closing the old road from Jericho to Jerusalem for Palestinians. This will isolate the different Palestinian communities even more one from the other and completely cut the south of the West Bank from the center-north.
Finally, while these policies are another Nakba, a full scale disaster for the Palestinian quest for self-determination, for the Bedouin communities it is the end of their lifestyle. This plan to concentrate the Bedouin communities in townships undermines the traditional culture and livelihood of the affected communities. They will be prevented from access to grazing land, which means they have to sell their livestock and loose their livelihoods. In Jerusalem area, 85% of the 200 Bedouin families relocated in 1997 in Abu Dis had to abandon their traditional livelihood.
Undermining the sustainability of Israeli apartheid
One of the powerful backlashes after the latest Israeli military onslaught on Gaza is the redoubled determination of the Palestinian people to end the sustainability of Israeli policies and not to allow Israel anymore to profit from the occupation. This is targeting Israeli produce, contracts with Israel and the re-construction of Gaza, were plans are made to ensure Israeli companies will profit from the effort.
Since Oslo, there has been a heightened focus on the part of Israel to ensure that their occupation of our land is bringing them profits instead of expenses. This includes keeping the Palestinian people as a captive market so that they consume Israeli products and to encourage cooperation with Palestinian business as ‘peace building’ and ‘creating statehood’.
Now that campaigns are increasingly succeeding in emptying Palestinian shops as much as possible from Israeli products (due to import restrictions some products cannot be substituted or built in Palestine), as well Palestinian business is facing stronger control. The case of the three construction companies will surely set an important precedent. Further, it is a message to all companies – Palestinian or international – that they will be held accountable.