By EA Paul, East Jerusalem.
Abu Imad Bseisat is the head of the Bedouin community at Abu Nuwar which is to be found high on a hill nestled between the two Israeli settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Qedar in the occupied West Bank. His community comprises 630 people from 113 families. We visit him on a hot sunny day and, with typical Bedouin hospitality, he invites us to sit in the shade of his tent where we receive the customary coffee and tea.
As we were to find out later, he is a fun-loving man but, as he speaks to us, we realise we are listening to a man of some considerable intellect and integrity who cares deeply about his people. He shares with us some of the history of those people. They are traditionally semi-nomadic and their way of life depends on cultivating their land and tending their animals. He tells us what others have already stated, namely that in the 1950s, the Israeli government forcibly relocated tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands on which they had lived for hundreds of years, long before the State of Israel was declared in 1948.
Abu Imad confirms to us what the United Nations (UN) say, that Bedouin communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem and in the central occupied West Bank, including his own, are at risk of forcible transfer once more due to a “relocation” plan (involving three new “townships”) advanced by the Israeli authorities; a plan which those authorities claim will improve the living conditions of the Bedouin. Abu Imad tells us, however, that at no stage have the Bedouin ever been properly consulted in any of this and, hardly surprisingly, they very strongly oppose the plan.
The UN says that the designated new “townships” are inadequate and raise serious humanitarian concerns. As a result, the relocation is expected to seriously undermine traditional livelihoods and communities, as has been evidenced previously by the Israeli government’s decision to forcibly transfer 150 Bedouin families to “al Jabal” between 1997 and 2007. The two main conclusions that emerged from a recent joint study on “al Jabal” undertaken by the UN and Bimkom are that the centralisation of rural communities against their will has resulted in a situation which is neither socially, nor economically viable.
Abu Imad further explains to us that several Bedouin communities, including his, are located in an area known as E1 that has been designated for the further significant expansion of Israeli settlements between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. These settlements are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its own population into the territory it occupies.
I ask Abu Imad how he sees their future and he startles me by using one word: “Dark”. At a meeting some days before with Abu Khamis, the leader of another Bedouin community at Khan al Ahmar, I had asked what the effect for them would be if they were forcibly transferred to one of the “townships”. He replied, “that is like Guantanamo to the Bedouin”.
The UN Secretary-General has stated that the proposed forcible transfer is “prohibited under international humanitarian law and human rights law. As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the civilian population in the occupied territory and administer it for the benefit of the population. The destruction or confiscation of private property, including homes, as well as the transfer of settlers into occupied territory, is also prohibited” (Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).
If the Israeli government succeeds in relocating the Bedouin and expanding the settlements in area E1, the West Bank will be cut in half and East Jerusalem will become completely encircled by Israeli settlements. At a meeting with the UN, one official described the Bedouin to us as, “The human face of the two-state solution.” If the Bedouin lose their case, this official is of the opinion that the two-state will be dead. Interestingly, Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, once described the Bedouin as the “Gatekeepers of Jerusalem”.
At the Tenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in 2011, Mohamed Al Korshan, a West Bank Bedouin, was asked to prepare a report for the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People. In that report he said, “There is very little awareness, both in our region and worldwide, of the critical situation that the Bedouin in the West Bank are experiencing. Over 62 years of exile, we have striven to keep alive our traditions, customs and hopes. Now all this is irremediably at risk of disintegration and collapse. It is of crucial importance for us to seek the support of the international community.”