Indigenous World 2019: Palestine
Following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, the Jahalin Bedouin, together with four other tribes from the Negev Desert (al-Kaabneh, al-Azazmeh, al-Ramadin and al-Rshaida), took refuge in the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule. These tribes are semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists living in the rural areas around Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho and the Jordan Valley.
These areas are today part of the so-called “Area C” of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Area C represents 60% of the West Bank; it was provisionally granted to Israel in 1995 by the Oslo Accords and was due to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction by 1999. This never happened and, today, 25 years after the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel retains near-exclusive control of Area C, including over law enforcement, planning and construction. It is home to all West Bank Israeli settlements, industrial estates, military bases, firing ranges, nature reserves and settler-only by-pass roads, all under Israeli military control. Over the years, Israel has dispossessed Palestinians of roughly 200,000 hectares of land, including farmland and pastureland, which it then generously allocated to settlements. Over 600,000 Israeli settlers currently live throughout the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in over 200 settlements, enjoying nearly all the rights and privileges accorded to Israeli citizens living in Israel proper, inside the Green Line.1
The situation of the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin refugees of 1948, some 27,000 pastoral herders living under full Israeli military control in Area C, is currently a major humanitarian issue. Most at risk are 7,000 Bedouin (60% of whom are children) living in 46 small communities in the Jerusalem periphery. Donor-funded humanitarian structures (shelters, goat pens, water tanks, schools, etc.) continue to be deliberately targeted and forcible resettlement by Israeli authorities remains a constant threat.
2018 was an extraordinary year for Al Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin village. As reported in previous issues of The Indigenous World, Al Khan al-Ahmar has been an example of Israeli occupation policies of “land-grabbing”, forcible displacement of indigenous Bedouin and denial of recognition of Palestinian rights in Area C of the OPT. In 2018, the village and its famous car tyres and mud school became the focus of an internationally known campaign that has – so far – thwarted their demolition.
Threats against Al Khan al-Ahmar
Twice during 2018, Israeli military bulldozers, military forces, riot police and Border Police have entered the village, which has been forced to “host” them while it was declared a closed military zone, prior to its scheduled demolition. Hundreds of non-violent solidarity activists sleeping there – sometimes as many as 200 per night – have been under violent attack by the Israeli riot police. This violence peaked during weekly Friday demonstrations, which followed shared prayers. These demonstrations were organised by the Palestinian non-violent popular committees, supported by thousands of Palestinians, Israelis, internationals, leading Palestinian politicians, church leaders and high-ranking Palestinian Authority ministers. Despite demolition deadlines, due within days to raze the entire village and its iconic school, the demolition has repeatedly been avoided at the last minute or postponed. Al Khan al-Ahmar still stands.
Twice in 2018, the Israeli High Court rejected the Bedouin residents’ petitions, including their appeal against a decision allowing for demolition. High Court lead judge, Noam Sohlberg, himself a resident of Alon Shvut (a settlement illegal under international law) and a religious Zionist, stated in his ruling that the structures had been built illegally, without military-issued building permits, and that they could therefore be demolished.
Schools as specific targets for demolition
In Area C, 300,000 Palestinians have no civil rights at all, including the right to access education. On the contrary – some 42 schools2 in Area C currently bear demolition or stop work orders, as Israel works to prevent Palestinian development,3 while nearby Israeli settlements continue to expand in order to prevent the future viability of a Palestinian state. For example, in May 2018 when UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, visited Al Khan al-Ahmar and its school, the neighbouring Israeli settlement, Kfar Adumim, declared its plan to build 92 new housing units on the hill overlooking Al Khan al-Ahmar. Even those Bedouin who are landowners regularly suffer demolitions and fail to get building permits on their land.
Bedouin culture is non-consumerist. It is sustainable even under harsh desert conditions. The Bedouin practice a semi-nomadic lifestyle which is closely in tune with nature; they cherish freedom, having an open and welcoming heart, intelligence, spiritual strength, simplicity, honesty, trust and generous hospitality. This closeness to nature and natural laws influences their cultural norms, which share many of the characteristics recognised in indigenous cultures all over the world. Israel, however, has regularly denied the Bedouin their indigenous status, and pejoratively refers to them as “nomads” in order to dispossess them of land rights.
The International Criminal Court
Under occupation, with divide and rule policies deliberately working to undermine it, Bedouin culture is under attack. The campaign for Al Khan al-Ahmar does not therefore merely represent a political struggle for recognition of Bedouin rights as refugees. It is also a campaign to prevent forcible displacement to semi-urban settings – targeted by Israel to be either next to a garbage dump, or a sewage farm, or on land privately owned by Palestinians – with a disastrous impact on that culture. Israeli policies of forcible displacement and the coercive environment of the Israeli military occupation has forced people to move elsewhere, as if of their own free will, and as if in accordance with the principles of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). These policies are already recognised by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – which is being petitioned to prevent this specific displacement, classifying it as a war crime.
A statement4 by the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Judge Fatou Bensouda, on Wednesday, 16 October, may have been the reason that the demolition did not take place as scheduled. She stated, inter alia:
I have been following with concern the planned eviction of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank. Evacuation by force now appears imminent, and with it the prospects for further escalation and violence. It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute. […] As Prosecutor seized of the situation in Palestine, I therefore feel compelled to remind all parties that the situation remains under preliminary examination by my Office. I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action, within the confines of the independent and impartial exercise of my mandate under the Rome Statute, with full respect for the principle of complementarity.
This statement was made at a time when demonstrations against demolition were at their most violent. A video is available5 showing how new, remote control Taser guns6 were being tested by the Israeli riot police and how demonstrators had to be evacuated by ambulance (access for which was delayed by the military) due to the resulting heart problems and epileptic fits. During the same demonstration, a young Bedouin woman was violently arrested, having her head-covering ripped off in public, and other demonstrators were viciously attacked. These scenes were broadcast worldwide, causing outrage in the Muslim world, especially during the next day’s Friday prayers.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reportedly harsh words about the demolition of Al Khan al-Ahmar to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her visit to Israel may have also prevented the demolition. Jahalin Solidarity organised a demonstration of 18 Bedouin schoolchildren from the car tyres school7 outside the Israeli president’s official residence while Chancellor Merkel was lunching there. A letter8 from Jahalin Solidarity, similar to one given to HRH King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan at the UN General Assembly in September, was handed to Ms Merkel by the German ambassador and then translated into German for wide distribution in Germany; similarly, an online appeal9 to the Chancellor went viral on Facebook.
The tragic fate of Khan al-Ahmar is part of Israel’s annexationist trend, which has worrying consequences well into the future. Israel is moving with dispatch to entrench a sovereignty claim by annexing parts or all of the West Bank. It already annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, a move that the international community condemned as illegal and has not recognized to this day. The West Bank is now clearly within Israel’s sights. […]
Michael Sfard, a noted Israeli human rights lawyer, has recently written that Israel’s ‘[…] goal is clear: a single state containing two peoples, only one of whom has citizenship and civil rights.’ Yet, despite Israel’s ongoing record of non-compliance with the directions of the international community, it has rarely paid a meaningful price for its defiance, and its appetite for entrenching its annexationist ambitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has gone largely unchecked. For the past 50 years, the international community has been playing checkers while Israel has been playing chess.
Alas, neither international law or UN resolutions are self-executing. Only after decisive action by the United Nations insisting that Israel must either fully annul its annexations and relinquish its occupation or be prepared to bear the full consequences of international accountability, will we start moving towards a compassionate peace in the Middle East.11
The above confirms the involvement of international bodies such as the United Nations and the ICC; governments too, such as those of the United Kingdom and France have been supportive in the campaign against demolition. Local diplomats based in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv have also conducted solidarity visits, including all EU Heads of Mission, as have the European Parliament’s DPAL Committee and MPs from other countries; the Russian Representative visited on various occasions, including engaging in media work there. The ongoing campaign also involves the United States Congress: lobbyists (Rebuilding Alliance and J Street) have written letters signed by members of Congress addressed to President Trump, just as Jahalin Solidarity managed, through its social media campaign12 featuring short films,13 to get the signatures of 109 Members of Parliament on Early Day Motion 1169,14 who had been spurred on to act by the thousands of letters and tweets from voters generated by that online campaign.
Once initiated, the campaign was supported by many civil society activists and NGOs: CAABU (the Council for Arab-British Understanding), Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Medical Aid for Palestine, and Labour2Palestine in the UK, and Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street and the Rebuilding Alliance in the US. In Brussels, activists worked for a successful European Parliament vote15 calling on Israel not to demolish Al Khan al-Ahmar and its school. Similarly, EU member states at the Security Council also issued a statement.16 Equally, in Israel-Palestine, organisations such as B’Tselem supported Jahalin Solidarity’s campaign, highlighting its visibility by retweeting posts, involving Jahalin Solidarity in its field briefings, as well as issuing its own op-eds,17 calling on the EU for clarification18 or referring to Al Khan al-Ahmar in an address to the Security Council.19
Moreover, Jahalin Solidarity set up and administered a WhatsApp group of 250+ international journalists, in which journalists and key activists posted real-time reports, creating a living body of information. This information was also shared with over 100 diplomats, including at ambassador level, both in Israel-Palestine and key capitals. This work is continuing into 2019 due to the demolition orders being outstanding, and the military20 appearing on New Year’s Day to inform the Bedouin – contrary to the Israeli High Court ruling which insisted that while demolition could be undertaken, displacement was not allowed – that they would have to move soon.
Community spokesman awarded a Peacemaker’s Award
Eid abu Khamis Jahalin, whose longstanding contribution is immeasurable as an advocate for his village and its school, has been recognized for a Peacemaker’s Award. 21 He has spoken at various foreign parliaments, welcomed visitors in his home and been the intermediary for his community’s relationship with its lawyers, journalists as well as the Israeli military. This has resulted in intense pressure on him as community leader, including efforts by far-right activists to deliberately undermine his integrity by quoting him out of context in their media reports, misrepresenting him or seeking to ambush him by pretending to be neutral journalists. It is his sumud (steadfastness) in relation to his people that has been recognised by the Rebuilding Alliance in San Francisco and, alongside the author, earned him the award.
Outlook for 2019
So far, Al Khan al-Ahmar and its famous car tyres and mud school still stand. International pressure and media attention have been sufficient (substantially assisted by the solidarity of so many Palestinians who have either slept at or visited or organised in the protest tent, as well as Israelis who have been a fundamental component of this campaign, together with the 24/7 presence of many journalists) to deter the government’s efforts. 2019 is still young, however, and ongoing calls for demolition are strident during this election period. Al Khan al-Ahmar’s continued existence cannot be taken for granted, nor can its function (described in previous yearbooks of The Indigenous World) as “guardian of Jerusalem and the two-state solution”. Moreover, even if Al Khan al-Ahmar remains standing and the Israeli landgrab for settlement expansion is somewhat foiled there, the conditions of the village – and of the 300,000 other Palestinians living in Area C, especially in pastoral herding communities in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills – remain excruciating. Just as the conditions of the 300,000 Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem also continue to be, living in a coercive environment absolutely deprived of any semblance of civil rights or democracy.
Notes and references
- “Expel and Exploit: The Israeli Practice of Taking over Rural Palestinian Land”. B’Tselem, 2016, at http://bit.ly/2T5xfpq
- See HRW at http://bit.ly/2T5xiBC
- See +972 magazine at http://bit.ly/2SYdyzx
- See The International Criminal Court at http://bit.ly/2SXOLeV; See +972 Magazine at http://bit.ly/2T32Zv2
- See Video uploaded in Google Drive at http://bit.ly/2T2Law4
- A Taser is an electrical weapon that causes neuromuscular incapacitation. It fires two small barbed darts intended to puncture the skin and remain attached to the target. The darts are connected to the main unit by thin insulated copper wire and deliver electric current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taser
- See Jahalin at http://bit.ly/2SW5zDk
- See Jahalin at https://bit.ly/2Sxofd0
- See Middle East Eye, “Israeli Campaigners Plea to German Chancellor Angela Merkel” at http://bit.ly/2SBEFkt
- See Newsweek at http://bit.ly/2SB3VHH
- See Jahalin at http://bit.ly/2SZoTiJ
- See Jahalin at http://bit.ly/2SW5zDk
- An early day motion (EDM), in the Westminster system, is a motion, expressed as a single sentence, tabled by Members of Parliament that formally calls for debate “on an early day”. In practice, their main purpose is to draw attention to particular subjects of interest. See the UK Parliament at http://bit.ly/2T0ullF
- See Noa Landau on twitter at http://bit.ly/2SULRru
- See UN Web TV at http://bit.ly/2Szxc5E
- See Haaretz at http://bit.ly/2SXYYYL
- See B’TSELEM at http://bit.ly/2SS7xVh
- Ibidem at http://bit.ly/2SXERKw
- See Jahalin Mailchimp Newsletter at http://bit.ly/2T0oixn
- See The Rebuilding Alliance at http://bit.ly/2SXFeoo
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is Director of Jahalin Solidarity, a Palestinian organization she set up to support Jahalin Bedouin with capacity raising and advocacy, especially as to their forcible displacement, and to advocate against the Israeli Occupation. She was for many years Action Advocacy Officer with ICAHD – The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and Advocacy Officer for Grassroots Jerusalem, having previously been an environmental activist in Sinai, Egypt, where she lived for four years. Together with Eid abu Khamis Jahalin she was a Rebuilding Alliance Peacemaker awardee 2018. A chapter she wrote about her work for the past 20 years with Bedouin was published in 2018 by Veritas in the best-selling new book a Defending Hope Dispatches From The Front Lines In Palestine And Israel.