After living under decades of Israeli occupation, Palestinian Bedouins now face an Israeli plan for their forced displacement to urban areas, which, they say, do not suit their nomadic lifestyle.
Abu Raed, a 66-year-old leader of a Palestinian Bedouin community near Jerusalem, described the Israeli plan as "the worst threat we have ever faced."
The area where he and his family live was labeled by the Israeli government "E1" – one of Israel's settlement expansion plans that was approved by the Israeli authorities in 1999 but was delayed due the international pressure.
If realized, the E1 plan, which aims to build new Jewish settlements on an area of 12,000 dunams, will link the settlements of Ma'ale Adumim, Mishor Adumim and Kfar Adumim in the occupied West Bank to East Jerusalem.
One dunam of land is roughly equivalent to 1,000 square meters.
To achieve this, Israeli authorities will relocate Raed's family, along with many Bedouin communities, to the Jordan Valley near Jericho.
"We heard that the Israelis would bring thousands of outsiders into this land, which would mean forced displacement for us. All the Jewish settlements around will be combined and united with Jerusalem," Abu Raed told The Anadolu Agency.
He said that moving into an urban township would bring their traditional lifestyle – which they have enjoyed for centuries – to an end.
"Our life depends on livestock. We cannot live in the city. That is against our lifestyle. We cannot feed and water our livestock in a city," he lamented.
Palestinian Bedouin, he said, also fear losing the privilege of keeping at least 200 meters between their homes, in accordance with their traditions – a custom that would become untenable in the city.
"Bedouin women don't associate with outsiders, but in a crowded town, they won't be able to keep this tradition anymore," he said.
"City life is totally against our lifestyle. We are shepherds. We only know how to feed animals. We will be like brutes in the city," he added.
He asserted that they didn't reject modernity. They just want to become a modern society – but in the mountains instead of the city.
Asking European countries to help them against the settlement plan, Abu Raed voiced fear that there would be no local Palestinian village left in the area if Israel forced them off the land.
"It is impossible to bring peace with this kind of eviction plan," he argued.
Last month, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the European Union sought to persuade Israel not to take a series of moves in the occupied West Bank deemed "red lines" by the union – including settlement building in the E1 area.
According to the paper, the European Union believes that crossing any of these "red lines" by Israel could undermine the possibility of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel – a risk that could draw further European sanctions against Israel.
The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-famous "Balfour Declaration," called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
Jewish immigration rose considerably under the British administration of Palestine, which was consolidated by a League of Nations "mandate" in 1922. In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state – Israel – was declared inside historical Palestine.
As a result, some 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes, or were forcibly expelled, while hundreds of Palestinian villages and cities were razed to the ground by invading Jewish forces.
Israel went on to occupy East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Jewish state – a move never recognized by the international community.
Palestinians, for their part, continue to demand the establishment of an independent state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with East Jerusalem – currently occupied by Israel – as its capital.
History of displacement
Mohamed al-Korshan, head of the Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee, an NGO, says the Bedouin living in Khan al-Ahmar had taken refuge in the area after becoming refugees when Israel was created in 1948.
According to al-Korshan, the Bedouin tribesmen who lost their land in the wake of the creation of Israel had settled in the Khan al-Ahmar area, refusing – for two main reasons – to move into refugee camps.
"Firstly, we thought we would get back our land very soon. And the second reason was to keep our traditional lifestyle," he said.
"We currently live near Jerusalem; we don't want to move away from the holy city due to its religious and commercial significance," he added.
"Israel's construction of the separation barrier has already isolated us from Jerusalem," al-Korshan lamented.
According to the Ramallah-based Palestinian government, the separation barrier – which snakes through the West Bank, isolating large swathes of Palestinian territory – cuts some 50,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem off from the city center.
Sacred to both Muslims and Jews, Jerusalem is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which for Muslims represents the world's third holiest site.
Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the "Temple Mount," claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
International law regards the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and all Jewish settlement building in these areas as illegal.
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered construction of a further 1,060 Jewish-only housing units in East Jerusalem in a move that drew Palestinian, Arab and international condemnation.
Palestinians already accuse Israel of waging an aggressive campaign to "Judaize" the historic city with the aim of effacing its Arab and Islamic identity and ultimately driving out its Palestinian inhabitants.
Al-Korshan said that Bedouin communities' access to natural resources, such as fresh water and natural grasses for their livestock, were restricted after the 1967 war.
"Natural resources now go mainly to the settlers living around us," he said. "The area where we live used to be considered 'empty land' by Israel – as if we had never existed."
In order to avoid forced eviction, the Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee is bracing to fight the plan in court.
"Israel is making plans about us without consulting with us. We are now in coordination with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and the Palestinian Authority," he said.
According to Israeli law, any relocation plan must be published in two Hebrew-language newspapers and one English-language newspaper, so that it might be discussed for 60 days before being implemented.
However, al-Korshan said Israel had only shared the E1 plan with Jewish settlers, thus violating its own law.
"Our Israeli lawyers said that Israel's plan for us is not transparent; that it was prepared behind closed doors," he said.
Yet in a worst-case scenario, the committee is working on a plan aimed at allowing relocated communities to retain their traditional lifestyles – even if they have to move to a different area.
"We are working on an alternative plan, but we have not submitted it yet to Israeli authorities," he said.
In August, Israeli authorities published six municipal plans, according to which 7,000 Bedouin would be relocated to townships.
One of these towns is Al-Nuway'imah, a Palestinian Bedouin community located just outside Jericho in the West Bank. It is surrounded by Jewish settlements and Israeli military bases.
Abu Faisla, a Bedouin leader in Al-Nuway'imah, fears that if other Bedouin communities in Khan al-Ahmar were to relocate here, there would be hostility between local residents and the newcomers.
"We live on little land. If the Bedouin communities in Khan al-Ahmar moved in, the land would be overcrowded," he said.
"Each Bedouin community has its own traditions. Mixing us [together] as a big town might start a fight between us," he warned.
He believes that, by this plan, Israel wants to play Bedouin communities off against one another.
"If Israel goes ahead with the E1 plan, we won't be able to live as we have lived for centuries," he said.
By Turgut Alp Boyraz
© Copyright Andolu Ajansi