Thursday, August 25, 2016

In the shadow of the Wall: The bedouin of al-Ram

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By Mike J.C. - January 14, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [In Pictures]
Tags: [Bedouin] [ethnic cleansing] [Al-Ram]

Photography by Gabriel R.

 

A small Bedouin community pressed between the West Bank town of al-Ram and the Israeli separation barrier illustrates the vast discrepancies in poverty and vulnerability amidst a nation already struggling under occupation. 

On a narrow strip of land scores of meters wide, the families of the small pastoral community, made up of about 35 people in six households, struggle to feed their children. Some of the Bedouin work in town, while others tend animals and the land to contribute to their predominantly subsistence lifestyle. 

Conditions deteriorated sharply seven years ago when Israel completed the eight-meter high concrete wall, pressing the Bedouin tight against the edge of Al-Ram and isolating them completely from the gentle rolling hills they had been accustomed to living off for 33 years. 

Not far away, the Israeli settlement of Neve Ya'akov has no such barrier between it and the same terrain. According to international law, all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal. Similarly, the International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the construction of the separation barrier on occupied Palestinian lands is also illegal.

Since the wall’s completion and the loss of their pastures, the Bedouin’s grazeable livestock plummeted from about a hundred to just around a dozen. Now from their simple homes and gardens, they are confined to a view of alleyways and building backsides in one direction, and the wall and their inaccessible land in the other direction.

“The wall turned our life upside-down,” Ajab Ka’abneh told Palestine Monitor outside of his small house of concrete, canvas, and sheet metal. “Life is difficult, so difficult,” he continued. 

The small community was also hit hard during the record-setting snowstorm that pummeled much of the region last month. Power and food were scarce to non-existent for several days, and four goats and sheep froze to death.

The large, densely populated town of al-Ram has problems of its own, so it has been unable to provide much aid to the struggling Bedouin families. Al-Ram is part of the built-up area of Jerusalem, but the Israeli separation barrier cleaved the two apart and now surrounds al-Ram on three sides.  According to a B’Tselem report, the majority of the town’s labor force previously worked in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, a commute now made onerous if not impossible for those lacking the proper identification cards to pass the Israeli checkpoints, and difficult and unreliable even for those in possession of the proper IDs. Al-Ram was also a commercial center for several other small Jerusalem suburbs, their business now stifled behind the wall. 

Ajab and his relative Ahmed Ka’abneh do not resent the lack of assistance from al-Ram. In fact they are grateful for limited access to certain amenities such as markets and medical services. “Everyone must help himself,” they say, understanding that these are difficult times for all Palestinians. 

However, they would like to draw attention to the conspicuous absence of other relevant institutions and agencies. “Where is the Palestinian Authority?” they ask. “And where is UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agencies]?” 

Under conditions of occupation, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable are too easily forgotten. With international headlines focused on politicians, peace talks, settlement expansion, and the boycott movement, the passive plight of the Bedouin often fails to make the radar.

Yet unlike the majority of Bedouin communities in the West Bank, which are located in the remote South Hebron Hills or the isolated Jordan Valley, the Bedouin of al-Ram find themselves isolated and alone just meters from a major Palestinian town, and just kilometers from the major urban centers of Jerusalem and Ramallah. 

Like millions more under occupation, they wait for the international community to pressure Israel to live up to its international obligations and stop denying basic rights and freedoms to so many men, women, and children.

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