Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Spearhead of Resistance: Bedouins in the West Bank

By F.F. Dawkins - August 06, 2019
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Bedouin]

South of Iraq, 609 A.D. The ground shook, and the air was filled with animal roars and shouts. The origins of the sound did not come from predators, but from Arab Bedouins performing the folk dance Dehhiya, before attacking the army of the Persian ruler of Khosrow II Parvéz. 

The legend has it that a tribal confederation of Arab Bedouins defended, during the famous 'Battle of Dhi Qar’, the daughter of the Arab Lhakmid King Numan III against the marriage claims of the Persian Sassanians ruler.

The fabled win against the Persian army was a long time ago, but Palestinian Bedouin tribes are still regarded as the cornerstone for resistance against the interference of foreign rulers. Today it is not a Persian army they must contend with, but the Israeli occupation.

During the Nakba in 1948, a great part of the Palestinian Bedouins expelled from their ancestral land in the Negev Desert fled to the surrounding territories like Jordan, Egypt, West Bank and Gaza.

Today there are 40,000 Bedouins living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT), most of whom are refugees from displaced indigenous tribes, which settled around Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho.

While the majority of the tribes are located in Jordan, today there are eight major tribes in the West Bank, namely the Jahaleen, Ka’abneh, Rashaydeh, Ramadeen, 'Azazme, Communities of Sawarka, Arenat and Amareen.

Due to the expulsion and the ongoing Israeli occupation, life for Bedouins in the West Bank is at particular risk. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), there are currently 7,000 Bedouins from 46 communities at high risk of forcible transfer.

However, the threat of displacement and demolition of their villages is not the only obstacle. Nearly 30,000 of the Bedouins in the oPT, are living in Area C, and are, therefore, confronted with restrictions of movement and building as well as limited access to water and electricity.

Bedouins have a crucial connection to their land, which is an essential part of their identity and cultural viability. Moreover, as semi-nomadic herders, access to grazing land is critical. Due to the closed military zones, natural reservoirs and settlements, the available grazing areas are continuously diminishing.

Khan Al Ahmar

Khan Al Ahmar is one Bedouin village that has been facing the threat of demolition and displacement for nearly a decade. Located eight km east of Jerusalem, the village is directly found next to the highway Route 1 and is sandwiched between two settlements; Kfar Adumin, in the north, and Ma’ale Adumin in the south. It's tin shacks, tents and prominent tire school are home to approximately 180 residents from the Jahalin tribe, who were expelled from Tel Arad in the Negev in the 1950s.

Khan Al Ahmar from above

Although the constant threat of demolition has been present for years, the Bedouins in Khan Al Ahmar continue to resist. A resident of the village, Yousef Abu Dahouk explained what daily life between the two settlements entails. “Sometimes the settlements flood our village with wastewater. The wastewater runs down the hill from the settlements and accumulates next to our village, contaminating everything.”

Under the current status quo, it is difficult for the residents to sustain their Bedouin way of life, Abu Dahouk continued. “We try to preserve our culture, but under these conditions, and because we have minimal access to land, it is hard for us.”

Nasser Kaabneh, a local guide from the Al-Kaabneh tribe, told Palestine Monitor about the difficulties Bedouins face when it comes to land restrictions.

“The Israelis are restricting access to more and more land. Therefore, the grazing area becomes limited or inappropriate to keep animals like camels. That’s why some people just keep a little number of animals and, in addition, start working in the neighbouring settlements,” Kaabneh said.

According to the Israeli government, the Khan Al Ahmar is located on Israeli state land and, therefore, requires a building permit, which is nearly impossible to obtain. As a consequence, Israeli authorities ordered the demolition of the village in 2009, intending to relocate the residents to Al Jabal next to a garbage dump.

Nevertheless, the original intentions behind this policy become apparent when examining the E-1 plan. This plan seeks to enlarge the Settlement area Ma’ale Admumin to its adjunct neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. The project is perceived as the potential 'coffin-nail’ for the 'two-state’ solution as it potentially disconnects the southern and western part of the West Bank and prevents the development of a Palestinian Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, frustrating the Palestinian hopes for East-Jerusalem as a future capital.

“The Israelis want to remove us from our land. But if they demolish our village, we will resist and stay. If they will move us, we will return. From everywhere, we will come back. We have been born here,” Abu Dahouk said.

Connecting the Bedouin Communities, enforcing resilience

Preserving the Bedouin culture and enhancing their resilience against the ongoing Israeli occupation, is an initiative led by the NGO Bedouins Without Borders. BWB is a Palestinian NGO established by Bedouins, which aims to work with Bedouins in Palestine. Last year, BWB managed to organise the 'First Palestinian Bedouin Forum’, which invited all Bedouin tribes in Palestine to discuss and exchange.

Wisam Salah from the Ta’amreh tribe and general director of BWB, said “We have different programs, which aim to reconnect the people to our culture and enhance our resistance. For example, with the 'Guardians of the Desert’ program, we train Bedouins on monitoring, documentation, guiding and tourism.”

Another part of this program is, according to Salah, to help Bedouins to go back to their ancestral land. They do so by re-creating their Bedouin lifestyle in the desert, what Salah calls “Bedouin outpost”, to which they offer tours and overnight stay for tourists. 

One of the “Bedouin outposts” in which tourist can stay overnight

“This program creates jobs and feeds the people here, but also enhances the connection to our culture. If we would not do anything, the Israeli will come and take the land,” Salah said.

As these 'Bedoin outposts’ are in Area C, they can be demolished any time. But Salah explained that they have found different ways to bypass these laws. “These outposts have no permanent roofing. If we gave them a permanent roof, Israeli authorities would come and destroy it.”

Salah went on to describe the ethos behind Bedoin resilience, and how this has led to their survival over the years of occupation.

“There is a Bedouin saying,” Salah explained. “I took revenge after 40 years, this was too fast. I should have waited another 40 years. Bedouins are very patient, very stubborn, and will not give up on their land. Bedouins will keep fighting and resisting,” Salah said enthusiastically.


Lead image: The Italian funded school in Khan Al Ahmar

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