By Zach Resnick
The Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), which is in charge of all civil operations in the West Bank (though in practice routinely blurs the line between civil and military), “…is committed to removing all Bedouins from the West Bank”, and plan to start with the Jerusalem periphery. Forced deportation, the practice of forcibly removing civilians from their homes, is an example of a war crime (4th Geneva Convention, Article 49).
The roughly 2,300 people of the Bedouin community that the ICA is targeting reside in 20 communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem, in the E1 settlement bloc. More than 80% of them are 1948 refugees. Over two-thirds are children. The communities have all lost access to land due to settlement expansion, most have demolition orders pending against their homes, none have access to the electricity network, and only half are connected to the water network. Despite receiving humanitarian assistance, 55% of Bedouin/herding communities in Area C of the West Bank are “food insecure”; the U.N. defines food security as, “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Over 200 families were re-located from the area in the 1990s, some by force. Of these, more than 85% report they had to abandon their traditional livelihoods. More than 500,000 Israeli civilians live in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, built in contravention of international law (4th Geneva Convention, Article 49). In this year alone, at least 755 Palestinians had been forcibly displaced due to demolitions, and 127 due to settler violence – some 40% of these were Bedouin.
The relocation deal proposed to the roughly 20 Bedouin small communities that live in the Jerusalem periphery, is to move inside a major municipal garbage dump (also see this PDF). This is a ‘settlement’, not of two parties negotiating (relocation agreement), but of the ICA giving a compensation package. This is akin to saying, “sorry we are removing you again (first time was in 1948) from your homes and traditional lifestyle, but take this money and we’ll call it even?” The ICA has argued that this is a step up from their current lifestyle, mainly because the ICA is essentially bribing them by building up their new infrastructure and giving them money; they also maintain that urbanization is superior to their traditional herding lifestyle. The current Bedouin way of life is only in a humanitarian and cultural crisis due to Israeli colonization and restrictions over their lives. The new ‘deal’ the ICA is proposing may not even meet basic standards of living and a minimum standard of cultural perseverance, as enshrined in international law and previous bilateral agreements on the part of the Israeli government.
There is an ethical dilemma for NGOs and those generally in the human rights world here. When a case of deportation or something similar gets high media visibility, it makes it more likely that the Israeli government will punish the occupied population. Increased humanitarian support always results in more demolition orders and a furthering of the elaborate matrix of control. Sometimes the soundest advice for Palestinian communities is to ‘settle’ with the Israeli government, and in turn get maybe slightly more land and cash in their new package. The ICA and the Israeli government have long understood the colonial principle of ‘divide and conquer’ by cutting deals with small individual communities and coaxing them not to resist colonization.
The ICA strategy is to make life as terrible as possible for the Palestinians where they are now, while making the land where they want the population to be moved to as desirable as possible so they ‘choose’ to move. The ICA is planning to make this forced relocation happen in 2-3 months, so it’s very important that the story of the Bedouin community gets heard in the international community soon. It’s only a matter of time before the ICA tries to forcibly remove the Bedouins elsewhere in the West Bank. The Israeli government wants to urbanize a traditionally rural population to make it easier to judaize the West Bank, and to more easily control the Palestinians. It makes strategic sense that they are trying to remove those in the E1 settlement bloc first, because full colonization of that area as planned, would effectively divide the West Bank into two parts, eliminating any illusion of territorial contiguity that was once there. It unarguably destroys the possibility of any two state solution that isn’t legitimized apartheid.
Zach Resnick is living for a year in Israel/Palestine and blogging at Thoughts from Jerusalem. He recently graduated high school and is spending a year before Oberlin College interning for the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, studying jazz music at Shtriker Conservatory, and taking in life in Israel/Palestine.