‘Not a map for a community; more like a map for a graveyard’ (Jordan Valley I)

Abu Faisal is tall for a Bedouin.  Dressed in traditional robes, he welcomes us underneath a large awning to shade us from the sun.  This part of Palestine is well below sea level and even in October it is very hot. We have come as part of a fact-finding tour to the Jordan Valley arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniers in Jericho.  He is the Muktar or Mayor of Nuwei’ma, a village just north of Jericho.  He is keen to tell us about the plight of people living there.

Abu Faisal with the map for the proposed new town

Abu Faisal with the map for the proposed new town

Originally from the Negev, this Bedouin community was forced out in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. First they settled near Bethlehem but again they were moved on from there in 1967 and have been living here in the Jordan Valley ever since. 70% of them are registered refugees. Life has been getting more and more difficult for them with increasing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the area.

Their main source of income is from sheep and they make a living from selling meat and cheese. In traditional Bedouin custom, land is held in common, not registered to any individuals. Recent expansion of settlements has closed off land which they have grazed for over forty years. Originally land was appropriated for military bases.  This is allowed under international law. However, these bases were later civilianised and more and more land was taken to make room for Israeli settlers. This is specifically forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention[1], the law pertaining to the rights and obligations of occupation. “This has made our lives harder.” Abu Faisal explained. “The authorities have tried to displace us but we refused.” He told us about how settlers sometimes ‘kidnap’ animals which stray what they consider too close to the settlements and then demand a ransom for their return. “Sometimes more than the animal is worth.” “In other places,” he said, “settlers poison the grass near the settlements so that the animals die.”

With new technology, settlers have drilled much deeper wells so that the traditional wells have dried up. The Bedouin have been denied permission to re-drill their wells; Palestinians rarely getting planning permission to build anything, even a well, in ‘Area C’ [2].  Ninety-four per cent of planning applications are refused.  Nor are they allowed access to the Jordan River as they are considered ‘a security threat’.  Nor to water from it.

They also suffer from military manoeuvres. The whole area is regularly declared to be a ‘firing zone’ while the army carries out training. It is hard to believe that army manoeuvres using live ammunition can be planned in an area where people live. Then there are nature reserves being planned for the area. It is indeed exceedingly beautiful. But these nature reserves will cut down grazing land even further.

Now there is a new threat.  In September this year the Israeli Civil Administration began to step up efforts to implement plans for a forcible transfer of 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their homes on the Jerusalem periphery to new towns in the Jordan Valley.[3] Three communities are slated to be moved together into the Nuwei’ma area. The new town is to be built on the land of this existing village. The village is already pressurised and cannot possibly accommodate more people and animals. Nor do the Bedouin being transferred want to come. In order to facilitate the transfer, Israel has plans to demolish 500 Bedouin homes[4]. This whole operation is specifically forbidden under international law and constitutes a war crime[5].

The Israeli government has justified the plan by claiming that the residents do not have title over the land and that the transfer will improve their living conditions. However, Israel does not have title to the land either nor the right to decide for the people living here. This is Palestine not Israel. The present plans for forcible transfer do not improve their living conditions. The Palestinian Authority submitted alternative plans but these were rejected. “They weren’t exactly what we wanted but they would have been possible.” Abu Faisal said. “We want to have a plan for each community where they currently are or else to be allowed to go back to the Negev.” Judging by attempts also to ‘relocate’ Bedouin in the Negev in Israel under the ‘Prawar Plan’[6], this seems unlikely.

He showed us the map for the new town of Nuwei’ma. One glance would show that it could not be suitable for a Bedouin community. Bedouin communities are spread out in order to allow grazing for their animals. This map shows rows of houses side by side in streets and no space to house animals, let alone to graze them. “How are we to live?” asked Abu Faisal. “We will be forced to go into the nearest town and beg. This is not a map for a community. More like a map for a graveyard.”

Bedouin Village of Nuwei'ma

Bedouin Village of Nuwei’ma

This plan has a wider and more troubling aspect to it. The forcible transfer of Bedouin round Jerusalem will clear the way for Israel’s E1 settlement expansion master plan, approved by the Knesset in 1999 but halted due to international pressure. This will cut off Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank and link existing settlements near Jerusalem right across to the Jordan Valley. This effectively cuts the West Bank in two, thereby negating any possibility of a two state solution. Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal under international law. However, Israel has already announced tenders for 4,868 new housing units while advancing plans for an additional 8,938 new housing units in the area where these Bedouins live. Once completed, these units would house approximately 55,000 Israeli settlers. See: http://bit.ly/1r2WzqW

We said goodbye to Abu Faisal. As we left, his request to us was “Please tell your elected representatives in your countries so that they will stop this forcible transfer happening.” He paused and then said, “I would like to emphasise the word ‘forcible’.”

I would re-iterate that request. Please contact your MP, TD, MEP and anyone else with influence to try to stop this war crime. I have copied in a possible letter below, written by Amnesty International.

[1] The Fourth Geneva Convention, (Article 49) The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’

[2] Oslo Accords 1994: As a temporary measure for five years only, pending complete withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the West Bank was divided into administrative areas A, B or C. Area A being under total Palestinian control; Area C under Israeli control; and Area B jointly controlled.

[3] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_communities_jerusalem_factsheet_september_2014_english.pdf

[4]  Fourth Geneva Convention: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” (Article 53)

[5] Fourth Geneva Convention: Forced transfer of protected persons is prohibited by Article 49, violation of which is a “grave breach” as per Article 147. Grave breaches are codified as war crimes under Article 8(2)(a)(vii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute but this does not alter the status of such acts in international law since the statute is codified as customary international law.

[6] http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.563497

Disclaimer:  I am no longer an Ecumenical Accompanier and the views expressed in this article are entirely my own.  

Dear [MP/TD/],

I am writing to draw your attention to the attached statement signed on September 11 by 44 Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations. The statement urges world leaders to take immediate action to stop Israeli plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouin out of their communities in the central part of the occupied West Bank and into a designated township. I would be grateful if you could forward this email and the statement to the UK Foreign Secretary/Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, asking him to take all the necessary steps to ensure the six transfer plans are cancelled and that Palestinians can remain in and develop their communities. Such steps should include:

  • Applying immediate and effective pressure on Israel, at the highest political level, to cancel their Bedouin relocation plans. The United Nations Secretary-General has previously stated that the implementation of “relocation” plans may amount to individual and mass forcible transfers and forced evictions, prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law. In their May 2012 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the EU and member states called on Israel to halt forced transfer in Area C and in their March 2014 EU HoMs report on Jerusalem, the EU and member states recommended that they monitor and respond appropriately to forced transfer of Bedouin communities in the E1. Additionally, both the US and the EU have condemned settlement expansion in the E1, warning that changes to the status-quo in the E1 present a risk to the two-state solution that they support.
  •  Calling for a freeze on all outstanding demolition orders in the E1 and the rest of Area C and for Palestinians to have access to a fair and representative planning system.In a February 2014 UN Secretary General report, the SG called on Israel to “cease the violations of Palestinians’ human rights resulting from discriminatory and unlawful planning policies, laws and practices. Israel has to, in compliance with international law, amend the planning legislation and processes in order, in particular, to ensure the security of tenure and the full participation of Palestinians. Israel must also refrain from implementing evictions and demolition orders based on discriminatory and illegal planning policies, laws and practices”.
  •  Continuing to pledge for and implement humanitarian and development programs for vulnerable communities in Area C, in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law.International donors should ensure their aid is delivered in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law and that they take all necessary precautions to ensure that their aid efforts do not recognize violations or comply with the coercive environment facilitating the forced transfer of vulnerable communities in Area C.

I would be grateful if you could forward me any response you receive from the [Foreign Secretary/ Minister for Foreign Affairs]. I would also be grateful to receive a response from you regarding your views on the issue.

 

Yours sincerely,

Statement follows:

11 September 2014

World leaders must stop Israeli forced transfer of Palestinian Bedouins
44 Palestinian, Israeli, and international organizations are urgently calling on world leaders to stop Israeli plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouins out of their communities in the central part of the occupied West Bank and into a designated township.
The organizations stressed that the international community must take all possible measures to ensure that individual and mass forcible transfer, which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, does not take place. The organizations said world leaders should immediately press Israel to cancel all transfer plans and allow Palestinians to remain in and develop their communities, warning that the transfer of Palestinian Bedouins from their current locations would free up land for Israeli settlement expansion in a way that could render the two-state solution unachievable.
The call comes as the Israeli government publicized this week six plans to move Palestinian Bedouins out of their communities around Jericho, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. The plans include moving Bedouins out of the politically sensitive area referred to as the Jerusalem Periphery or “E1,” where Israel has long-intended to demolish 23 Bedouin villages in order to expand and link settlements, established in violation of international law. Settlement expansion in this area would cut the West Bank in two, further disrupting movement and social and economic ties between major Palestinian cities and limiting the little access Palestinians in the West Bank have to Jerusalem.
All of the Palestinian Bedouin communities slated for transfer are located in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel maintains full civil and military control. There are already around 341,000 Israeli settlers living in more than 100 settlements throughout Area C. Although Area C is within the internationally recognized 1967 borders of the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel only allows Palestinians to build on 1 percent of it. The lack of authority to build makes Palestinians vulnerable to home demolition, displacement, and forcible transfer and limits their ability to realize their rights to water, to adequate shelter, to education, health, and to livelihood.
In recent months, the government of Israel has used coercive tactics to heighten the pressure on Palestinian Bedouin communities, issuing eviction orders and demolishing homes and livelihood structures. Israel has also obstructed aid agencies from delivering assistance to these communities, including by seizing and destroying emergency shelters that international donors provided for families whose homes were demolished and confiscating a swing-set and a slide for a Bedouin school. Israel has already demolished more than 350 Palestinian homes or livelihood structures in Area C in 2014, while demolitions in the Jerusalem periphery and E1 area have hit a five-year high, displacing 170 Bedouins, 91 of whom are children.
“Being in constant danger of forcible transfer is not a healthy way of living. We are scared, we can’t build, we lack basic rights, but we don’t want to move to a township. If you ask me to move I would say no. I was born as a Bedouin, and we want to preserve our traditions. Israel is claiming they will create a better solution for us, I will tell you that’s not true, that transferring us will destroy our lifestyle and traditions. If they really want to create a better solution they can let us to go back to the Negev or stay where we are and receive services,” said Jameel Hamadeen, a 32-year-old resident of Sateh al Bahr, one of the Bedouin communities slated for demolition and transfer.
1. ActionAid  2. Action Against Hunger (ACF) 3. American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) 4. Alianza por la Solidaridad (APS) 5. Al Haq 6. Assamblea de Cooperacion por la Paz (ACPP) 7. Badil 8. CARE International 9. Christian Aid 10. Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) 11. DanChurchAid (DCA) 12. Diakonia 13. EAPPI UK and Ireland 14. EducAid 15. Grassroots Jerusalem 16. Handicap International (HI) 17. Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, Palestine & Jordan 18. HEKS 19. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions 20. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) 21. International Learning Centers (ILC) 22. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) 23. Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center (JLAC) 24. Ma’an Development Center 25. Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP – UK) 26. medico international 27. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) 28. Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) 29. Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) 30. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) 31. Oxfam 32. PAX 33. PNGO 34. Quakers in Britain 35. Rebuilding Alliance 36. Save the Children 37. The Civic Coalition for Palestinians Rights in Jerusalem 38. The Jahalin Association – Nabi Samwel 39. The Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation 40. The Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden 41. The YMCA Rehabilitation Program 42. War Child 43. WeEffect 44. World Vision Jerusalem- West Bank- Gaza

 

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One Response to ‘Not a map for a community; more like a map for a graveyard’ (Jordan Valley I)

  1. It’s hard to like what you have to write about but it certainly helps in understanding the situation in a much more personal and direct way.

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