By EA Alice
On 1 November 2017 the Israeli military told the Bedouin communities of Jabal al-Baba (Pope’s Mountain), Ein al-Hilweh, and Khirbet Um al-Jamal that they had eight days to leave their villages.
These villages are all on land privately owned by Palestinians or the Vatican. An Israeli lawyer has filed an objection for Jabal al-Baba; the community’s leader hopes that the eviction order may be overturned.
Mahmoud’s* family is one of 48 that would lose their homes if the evictions go ahead.
Like many Bedouin in the West Bank, Mahmoud’s parents came from the Negev. They became refugees when the area formed part of the state of Israel, in 1948.
The family fled to Jabal al-Baba, where Mahmoud was born and where he and his family have lived ever since – first in tents and now in makeshift structures. The interesting history of the community can be read on another blog on this site.
The communities are located inside Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, and which has been under Israeli military occupation for 50 years.
“For a long time they’ve made our lives very hard…We and the Bedouin[s] around can’t graze our animals on the mountains. Twenty years ago every family had 200 animals, now we have ten or 15, just enough for milk. Before, farming was our livelihood but it’s not possible anymore”. – Mahmoud, Jabal Al Baba
The Oslo Accords
Under the Oslo II Accord of 1995 the area was meant to come under Palestinian self-rule within five years. Two decades on, Israeli settlers outnumber Palestinians in the area and the Bedouin are being squeezed into ever-shrinking territories.
But there are even bigger worries for Mahmoud and his family.
The Israeli government is now clearing the land of entire Bedouin communities. Almost all the Bedouin communities in the E1 area have complete demolition orders.The Israeli state’s plan has taken a number of official forms, including the Greater Jerusalem Plan, which has been stalled, though the trenches marking the new route of the wall have been dug, and the demolition orders for Bedouin communities remain.
Though the Bedouin of Jabal al-Baba have proof of ownership of the land and every right to stay under international law, they are being subjected to what they describe as a campaign of intimidation.
“I will lose the last of my flock…I don’t like to think of this. It is winter and getting colder. International NGOs may give us tents…eventually we will find somewhere, but nothing can replace our houses. This land is where we were born and we want to die here” – Mahmoud, Jabal Al Baba
For years the Israeli military have been making regular incursions into the Bedouin communities, without warning and sometimes in the middle of the night. Since the eviction order has been issued, these incursions have been daily.
One of the community’s leaders told us that among his two-year-old son’s first words were “…the military are coming”.
One evening as we sat around the fire I asked them what would happen if they were evicted.
“I will lose the last of my flock”, said Mahmoud, “I don’t like to think of this. It is winter and getting colder. International NGOs may give us tents… eventually we will find somewhere, but nothing can replace our houses. This land is where we were born and we want to die here”.
Finding somewhere else to live isn’t easy, as relatives in neighboring communities are also subject to eviction.
As one of the community’s legal advisers said, “this isn’t only about ensuring that a precedent isn’t set for further forced transfers, but about preventing a way of life from being totally wiped out”.
But Jabal al-Baba’s community leader, Attalah , isn’t standing by and letting this happen.
He’s leading his community in peaceful resistance, staging protests and vigils on the mountain, inviting internationals to share their story, and lighting a Christmas tree for all surrounding towns to see.
“We need to not just wait for help but to support ourselves in the future, to create jobs in the community and to tell all the world about what’s happening here” – Attalah, Community Leader
But the biggest campaign is yet to come: Attalah now has permission from the Vatican to create a campsite on the land so that tourists can experience the Bedouin way of life, have tours of the surrounding historical sites, and learn about their struggle.
“We need to not just wait for help but to support ourselves in the future, to create jobs in the community and to tell all the world about what’s happening here”, he said.
“I want all the world, including Jews, to visit. Only the military and settlers are not welcome.” Funds raised through an Avaaz petition, below, have helped get this project off the ground.
You can find out more and stay updated on Jabal al-Baba on Facebook.
And sign this petition to say that you stand with the people of Pope Mountain.