Israel’s quest to strangle Palestine until it falls lifeless into the abyss of posterity will ultimately fail. But for the present, the crunch of its West Bank choke-hold is an area known as E-1.
E-1 is a strip of land between Israeli-occupied Jerusalem and the vast Israeli colony-city of Ma’ale Adumim, along with a few smaller neighboring Jewish-only Israeli colonies such as Geva Binyamin (also known as Adam). E-1 now separates them from Jerusalem; what Israel wants is for E-1 to connect them.
Palestinians can still squeeze through this choke-hold separating the northern and southern West Bank, but once Israel fully commandeers E-1, the West Bank will be contiguous only for settlers. For Palestinians, it will be dissected into two. Politicians who can still enunciate “two state solution” with a straight face fret that E-1 may be the final nail in the two-state coffin; yet, as with everything that has happened over the past seven decades, they wring their hands in faux powerlessness to stop it.
Indeed it was because of the catastrophe of 1948, when the Zionist militias ethnically cleansed them from the Negev, that these Bedouin settled what is now called E-1, then under Jordanian occupation.
Among the people on E-1 who fled the 1948 Nakba, and whom Israel is now trying to erase again, are the Jahalin of Jabal al-Baba. As if to rub salt into the Nakba wound, it was Nakba Day that Israel selected in 2016 to raze many of the village’s homes, homes provided by a European Economic Community aid programme. Ninety people, most of them children, were left homeless.
‘Nice’ ethnic cleansing tactics against Jabal al-Baba, designed to avoid bad publicity, have failed: Israel tried to bribe them with money and new land elsewhere, but the Bedouin are not interested in selling themselves, the new land promised them is already stolen by Israel from other Palestinians, and they know that Israel would eventually evict them from that (already stolen) land as well. So force, with its PR blemishes, would have to do.
Israel used to issue eviction orders to individual families, one at a time, on any of its stock pretexts (‘permits’, ‘illegal structures’, ‘closed military zone’, etc.), hoping to wear down the community’s resolve. But Israeli confidence has hardened in the Age of Trump, and last November (2017), Jabal al-Baba became one of the communities on E-1 which was handed a collective expulsion order. The entire village, a bit more than three hundred people, was “illegal”.
Schools are a bedrock of any community, and so when Jabal al-Baba defied the ethnic cleansing order, it was their kindergarten that Israel destroyed in an attempt to strain the community’s resilience. Instead, the villagers tried a new strategy.
It happens that some of Jabal al-Baba is Vatican-owned land, and so the villagers left the original school site barren and rebuilt it on a spot clearly marked as papal soil.
Israel was unimpressed: On the morning of July 25, its forces destroyed the new kindergarten and a women’s center.
Jerusalem 26 July, 2018: Yesterday morning at 0700hrs the Israeli Security Forces entered the Jabal al Baba Bedouin Palestine refugee community in the West Bank, close to the outskirts of East Jerusalem and dismantled and removed a donor funded structure that serves as a kindergarten for 28 children (3-6 years old) and a women’s centre. The school has been demolished once and dismantled twice so this is the third time within a year that the pre-school refugee children in this community have been deprived of having a safe place to play and learn.
The European Union chastised Israel while doing nothing to hold it accountable. Instead, it warned that forced transfers “threaten the two-state solution,” as though the past seventy years had never happened.*
Nearby to E-1 lies the town of Abu Dis, which Israel has tried to promote as the future capital of the Palestinian state it would never let exist, to counter criticism over its seizure of East Jerusalem. In Abu Dis is a modest but powerfully effective community center, Dar Assadaqa, the Palestinian half of the London-based human rights organization, Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA). Formed in 2004, CADFA became a registered UK charity the following year, dedicated to promoting human rights and respect for international humanitarian law. Its approach has been to link people in order to build awareness and understanding, and to encourage people to be active in the pursuit of human rights.
During the night of July 20-21, the IDF broke into the Dar Assadaqa community center, trashed it, destroyed both its computers, and left a swastika on a nearby wall. I met my friend, the community center’s head, Abdulwahab Sabbah (‘Abed’) outside the building on the following morning to be a witness the crime scene. We entered together.
Abed got the center functioning again and continued his human rights work undeterred. On August 8 he took a group of medical students from abroad to Jabal al-Baba. I accompanied him.
A chance visitor to Jabal al-Baba could be forgiven for assuming that the poor dirt approach road and primitive nature of the village are facts of Bedouin life — but they are not. Since the people are non-Jews in an area “C” (under full Israeli control by the Oslo Accords), they are blocked from building any permanent (concrete) houses, from paving their roads, or creating rudimentary infrastructure such as sewers, safe electricity access, or on-site running water — the latter two presently accessed by distant, independent hook-ups, barely adequate and, in the case of electricity, dangerous. The village’s once-lucrative trade in their own products has long been destroyed by Israel’s bantustan system.
When we arrived, a new structure stood on the same Vatican soil, a single large room that was almost ready for students. It was not clear what facilities or supplies for the school were still in the village. A man testified that during the July 25 assault, Israeli soldiers moved from household to household, stealing whatever they wished. When he tried to block a soldier from taking his family’s property, the soldier put a gun to his head: “All I need to do is pull the trigger and plant a knife by your side.”
Israel’s battle to ethnically cleanse Jabal al-Baba is but one of myriad ongoing stories in its singular quest for a ‘racially’ pure fundamentalist Zionist state. I am able to offer this report because it is possible to witness and document it. Had the people’s 1948 ancestors been among those who fled the Negev west to Gaza, rather than northeast to what became the West Bank, I would not. They would now be among the two million human experiments in that hermetically sealed laboratory.
We should not be surprised that Israel’s propagandists in its patron states, principally the United States and Britain, work to keep its crimes-in-progress out of public visibility by threatening the media and politicians with anti-Semitism smears. But we must not tolerate that our media and representatives acquiesce.
Mersiha Gadzo’s ‘We shall remain’: Bedouin of Jabal al-Baba face an uphill battle to keep their land, in Mondoweiss, May 10, 2017)
The Pope Mountain community تجمع بدو جبل البابا Facebook page, which contains photographs and updates.
* The Office of the European Union Representative (West Bank and Gaza Strip, UNRWA), Local EU statement on the dismantling by Israeli authorities of a women’s center and kindergarten in Jabal al-Baba. Jerusalem, 30/07/2018.