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Palestinian Bedouins reject Israeli forced evictions

Bedouins see Israel's relocation plan – the second since 1948 - as a landgrab attempt to would impose a stronger grip on Jerusalem
World Food Programme workers distribute food to Bedouins at the West Bank Bedouin camp of Khan al-Ahmar on 21 June, 2013 (AFP)

Khan al-Ahmar, which lies between Jerusalem and Jericho, is one of more than 20 Palestinian Bedouin communities facing forced eviction.

Israel says the aim of the plan, under which 12,000 Bedouins from three tribes would be relocated to a purpose-built town, is to give them access to water, electricity and education.

The Bedouins see the move as a landgrab and are refusing to move from an area they have lived in for decades since being forced out of their ancestral homes in Israel's southern Negev desert.

"This is neither an economic nor a social issue -- this is about Jerusalem," said Eid Khamis Sweilem, a spokesman for the Jahalin tribe.

Critics accuse Israel of seeking to extend its hold on lands east of Jerusalem, an area already peppered with Israeli settlements and largely empty of a Palestinian presence.

The Bedouin encampments of Khan al-Ahmar -- home to roughly 800 people -- lie east of Maaleh Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank with a population of about 40,000.

The expulsion would free up land for the settlement to expand eastwards, tightening Israel's grip on a corridor extending from annexed east Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. 

Palestinians say Israeli plans to build in the area threaten to sever the northern West Bank from the south, rendering the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

"The area stretching from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea will be completely Israeli. The two-state solution will be dead and buried," Sweilem told AFP.

"If we don't stay, there will never be a Palestinian state. So we won't move," he said.

Expropriation of land for the establishment of Maaleh Adumim began in 1975 and since then there have been ongoing efforts to expel Bedouin communities from their homes in the area, according to the United Nations.

'A ghetto of 12,000'

Rights groups have for years condemned Israel's attempts to forcibly transfer Palestinians, including Bedouins, within the 60 percent of the West Bank under its full control.

The Jahalin Bedouins are one of a number of clans of traditionally nomadic desert-dwelling Arabs.

Most were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands in the Negev in the years immediately after the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's establishment, subsequently moving to the West Bank.

Sweilem said he would only accept relocation if it was to the Negev, but the area has been repopulated by Israel.

No timetable has been announced for the planned move to the as-yet-unbuilt town of Nuweima north of Jericho, first publicised in October.

According to Israel's Civil Administration, which governs West Bank civilian affairs, the plan is aimed at "improving the quality of life of the Bedouin population" and was put together after "dozens of meetings with community heads, in order to understand the characteristics and needs of the population".

"We want to find solutions for the families which will allow them to maintain links with their traditional way of living," it said.

But rights groups say the scheme ignores the needs of the Bedouins and was not discussed with them.

"For a community already suffering from extreme poverty and lack of planning solutions to meet its needs, this move could spell disaster," said Alon Cohen-Lifshitz of Bimkom, which lobbies for planning rights for Palestinians in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank.

Israeli lawyer Shlomo Lecker this week filed a High Court appeal on behalf of the Bedouin demanding that the Nuweima plan be frozen on the grounds it was prepared without any dialogue with them.

If it goes ahead, Nuweima would be "a ghetto of 12,000 people," he said.

The lands from which Israel wants to remove the Bedouins "are areas that the state wants to annex," he added.

The Bedouins say the proposed relocation ignores the basic characteristics of their society and tries to force them into the model of a community settlement.

For Awda al-Mazaraa, from the Bedouin encampment of Jabal al-Baba, the situation looks hopeless.

"The Palestinians want a state based on the 1967 lines but there won't be one," he said, referring to the lines that existed before Israel seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the Six Day War. 

"Maaleh Adumim got the 1967 borders and is forcibly displacing all the people who live around it."

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