Resistance under a holy flag

By EA Sandra, Jerusalem

The Palestinian Bedouin community of Jabal al Baba, near to Jerusalem, consists of 300 people, of which 60 are children. There are 45 families.

When we visited last week, community leader Attalah welcomed us in traditional dress because there was about to be a wedding.

The new Jerusalem team of EAs in the wedding tent, with Attalah and Firas, our translator [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

The new Jerusalem team of EAs in the wedding tent with Attalah and Firas, our translator [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

Jabal al Baba is under threat of displacement as their hilltop lies in a strategic place, located directly between Jerusalem and the already-built Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummim.

Under the Israeli E1 plan the whole community of Jabal al Baba would be moved to near a garbage dump. This would allow the settlements, illegal under international law, to develop and expand, and to join up with Jerusalem. This would be a major blow to the idea of a two-state solution as it would divide two key parts of Palestine from one another. The Israeli plan would also cut the community of Jabal al Baba off from the Palestinian town of Al ‘Eisariya from which they obtain such water and electricity as they have and where the children go to school.

The community is a mix of tents and terrapins (portacabins). The latter were provided by the EU after a flurry of demolitions of Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities in late 2014. They were offered to every family. Twenty eight families said yes. They now have terrapin houses, but immediately, every EU-donated terrapin was made the subject of a demolition order. The families who chose to stay in tents have not had demolition orders!

Attalah, and 3 of his sons on an earlier visit [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

Attalah and three of his sons outside an EU-donated terrapin on an earlier visit [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

The community is however is resisting the fate which Israel plans for it.

Recently Attalah was invited to take part in a twenty-day speaking tour of Europe. He visited Holland, Brussels to speak to the EU, and Rome.

The tour seemed to have been a considerable success and he has many messages of support for his own small community, and for the Bedouin in general. But there is an extra dimension to this story.

The “al Baba” part of Jabal al Baba means “the Pope”.

King Hussein of Jordan, when the land was temporarily ruled by Jordanian before 1967, gave the hill as a gift to the Pope. We were assured that the Vatican owned the land.

So when Attalah visited Italy, he told us he was able to visit the Vatican in the company of Laura Boldini, the president of the Italian parliament. Attalah said he had been sympathetically received and that he had been told that the Vatican would support the children’s summer camp which starts at the beginning of August, and that he should look for a further project which the Vatican could support.

Attalah stood with Sandra and the new Jerusalem EAs on top of the “Hill of the Pope” next to his community [Photo: EAPPI/S. Horne]

Attalah with Sandra and the new Jerusalem EAs on top of the ‘Hill of the Pope’ next to Jabal al Baba [Photo: EAPPI/S. Horne]

You will see Jerusalem in the background. Attalah plans to put a Vatican flag on top of a thirty-metre mast so that it can be seen from Jerusalem.

There is a small non-descript building on the hill. We were told that when the land was given to the Pope, this small place was erected and used for worship. The community is in the process of renovating it and plans to offer it as a night stop for visitors who wish to understand the Bedouin story and the history of this community.

Attalah explains his plans in the “Pope’s House” [Photo: EAPPI/E. Aldenberg]

Attalah explains his plans in the ‘Pope’s House’ [Photo: EAPPI/E. Aldenberg]

Before leaving, we were able to spend time in the women’s pre-wedding tent. Sadly we cannot photograph Bedouin women. However, we were able to dance with them and admire their beautiful clothes, their energy, and their obvious happiness.

We met the groom who assured us he was a happy and lucky man!

The children keep an eye on us [Photo: EAPPI/E. Aldenberg]

The children keep an eye on us [Photo: EAPPI/E. Aldenberg]

We left wishing the community well in their innovative plan to use the power of the Vatican. The new EA team in Jerusalem will attend an opening ceremony for the “Pope’s House” and the raising to the Vatican flag on August 9.

Jabal al Baba epitomises a sad, sad story of a people who have managed to forge communities, and livelihoods, for so many years in peace with their neighbours but who now face forced displacement to enable the creation of Israeli modern homes.

If you’d like to read more about these Bedouins communities, here are some useful links:

– The UN has produced this helpful factsheet on the current situation facing the Bedouin of Palestine.

– There is a history of support by the Catholic Church for Bedouin communities in this area. You can read an example of that support here.

– On May 17 this year, Pope Francis canonised two Palestinian women saints in the Vatican City. The Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was in attendance and the issue of peace in Palestine was firmly on the agenda.