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Israel Evicting the Indigenous

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By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours

JERUSALEM, Oct 26, 2011 (IPS) - As Israel moves ahead with a plan to forcibly displace tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins in the occupied West Bank, Mohammad Al-Korshan and his family are facing the real prospect of not only losing their home, but their traditional way of life.

"The Bedouins depend on animals. We can’t take care of them in the village or in the city. All the Bedouins work with animals. If we go to the city, they kill us. They kill the Bedouins. After a few more years, you won’t have Bedouins in the area," says Al-Korshan, who lives in a Bedouin encampment with more than 90 other families near the West Bank town Anata, northeast of Jerusalem.

"We want to stay in our homes. If they damage our homes or our tents, we want to build again. We won’t move. Even if they want to kill us, we want to stay. We haven’t any place to go," he told IPS.

Quietly unveiled to local aid organisations in early October, Israel’s Civil Administration, the body that governs Area C of the occupied West Bank, which is under full Israeli military and administrative control, plans to expel approximately 27,000 Bedouins from their communities in Area C within three to six years.

According to Israeli human rights group BTselem, the first phase is planned to begin as early as January 2012, and would forcibly evict approximately 2,300 people – who are currently living in about 20 communities in proximity to the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim – and transfer them to a new location near the Abu Dis garbage dump, just east of Jerusalem.

The Civil Administration will expel Bedouins from the Jordan Valley in the second phase of the plan.

"We live now on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The Israeli government wants to close this area because we are near the settlement of Kufr Adumim. They want to take our land for their settlements," Al- Korshan, who heads the Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee, said.

"It’s very difficult for us. We haven’t any place to move. Our land is in Beer Sheva and we are refugees."

According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories, more than 80 percent of the Bedouin families living in the hills east of Jerusalem are refugees. Most have demolition orders against their homes and aren’t connected to electricity, while about half don’t have regular access to water.

OCHA also found that the proposed relocation site for the Bedouins – near the town of Al Eizariya, where 200 Bedouin families were relocated in the 1990s to make way for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement – would threaten the community’s health, lifestyle and overall wellbeing.

"The proposed site does not meet minimum standards in terms of distance from the municipal dumping grounds, which is likely to pose a health hazard to the communities, and provides limited access to grazing lands. Previously relocated families report negative consequences, including health concerns, loss of livelihood, deteriorated living conditions, loss of tribal cohesion and erosion of traditional lifestyles," the organisation wrote in a statement.

Suleiman Mazarah and his family, members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, were forcibly transferred to this area by the Israeli authorities in 1997. Mazarah told IPS that the community continues to suffer from the move.

"(The Israelis) put us in an area near the garbage dump of the municipality of Jerusalem. They are going to move the rest of the tribe now from Area C to our area. This action will destroy the Bedouin life. When they put them in a small area, their jobs will be destroyed because there is no place to keep animals. They won’t have work," Mazarah said.

"Most of the people here are without work, so they don’t have anything to give their children. If they move another group of people here, it will be much worse."

Forcibly transferring Bedouin communities without their consent, OCHA stated, also violates international law. "As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinian civilian population and to administer the territory for the benefit of that population. Any voluntary move or transfer of civilians must meet international standards, including relating to a free and informed choice," the organisation said.

According to Mazarah, plans to forcibly displace Bedouin communities in Area C of the West Bank can be linked to the historical and ongoing dispossession of Bedouin tribes since the founding of the state of Israel, including recent Israeli plans to displace 30,000 Bedouins currently living in the southern Negev desert.

"The same thing they are doing with the people in the Naqab (Negev), they are doing with us here. But in the Naqab, the Bedouins there have Israeli nationality, and here we are Palestinian. The Israelis don’t want any Bedouins in the land," Mazarah said.

"Our condition, and their condition also, is very bad. These forgotten people are suffering from the forced displacement, and it’s destroying their lives."