“We are an isolated minority group in an occupied territory”*
The Bedouins in the West Bank, like thousands of other Palestinians, were forced from their original homes in 1948. Unlike many other Palestinians, they decided to settle in the more isolated areas in the east so that their livestock would have room to graze. Hoping to continue their traditional way of life, as they had done for thousands of years, the Bedouin people relied on their pastoral ability. However, in the last decade this has proved almost impossible to sustain.
There are now 40,000 Bedouin people living in the West Bank comprising of around 5,000 families. Of those, 2,000 are living in refugee camps in Areas A and B. The other 3,000 families live in Area C.
Bedouins living in area C
In 1993, the Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into areas of control. Area C was to be under full Israeli authority with a gradual transfer to the Palestinian Authority. Area C covers 60% of the West Bank, 70% of the area is not accessible to Palestinians because of settlements, ‘firing-zones’, and ‘nature reserves’. None of the control in the area has been relinquished to the Palestinian Authority and measures discussed in the Oslo Accords were implemented and stepped up in severity from the year 2000 onwards. With the intifada and the consequent strict application of the Israeli ‘closure system’, Bedouins living in Area C were cut off from their main center of life, east Jerusalem, where they would go to pray, sell their livestock and produce and meet with relatives and friends from other areas. At the same time, Bedouin men were stopped from pursuing and maintaining jobs in Israel from which they had derived a large amount of the family’s income. Their traditional way of life was no longer easily sustainable.
‘Trggers’ forcing Bedouins to leave Area C
According to UN reports, there are three main ‘triggers’ that lead to the Bedouin community leaving Area C. These are:
The threat of settler violence on their home, family and livestock The threat of demolition by Israeli civil administration and military Poverty
Settler violence and harassment is a daily concern for the Bedouin people living in the West Bank. There are over 220 settlements in the West Bank, housing over half a million settlers. They are often built on land confiscated from Palestinians. The settlements often take control of key water resources and pastoral and agricultural land that was crucial to the herders already in that area. The settlements can also divide and block traditional herding routes.
In 2010, OCHA reported over 300 incidents leading to property damages or casualties in the West Bank carried out by settlers. These settlements are illegal by international law.
Demolition, forced displacement and forced relocation are all methods which the Israeli authority uses in order to remove the Bedouin people from the land. According to OCHA, in the remaining 30% in which building is not prohibited, there are a number of restrictions and often expensive and complicated processes to navigate in order to secure a permit. This possibility of securing permits has been greatly reduced despite the growth in Bedouin families and the need to expand properties. In this situation, the Bedouin communities have no choice but to construct ‘illegal’ buildings. According to UNRWA, by November 2010, 1090 individuals had been affected by demolitions in area C and 355 had been displaced. They also report that there are currently several thousand pending demolition orders throughout the West Bank.
Poverty levels amongst the Bedouin people in the West Bank were greatly increased by the measures implemented by the Israeli authority in 2000. Unable to maintain jobs in Israel and sell livestock in the Jerusalem markets, Bedouin families lost a crucial source of income. In a 2009 report, the World Food Programme and UNICEF revealed that 79% of herding communities (both Bedouin and non-Bedouin) in the West Bank were food insecure. In other words, they were uncertain of how they would feed their family. In the same report, it found that 28% of children suffered from stunted growth and 12% were malnourished.
According to UNRWA, communities are forced to rely on food packages from international organizations but are still not getting all the vital nutritious food stuffs such as fresh fruit and vegetable.
“For thousands of years our tribes have depended on livestock management, and this collapse is happening so fast that we do not yet have alternative coping strategies.” *
Lack of infrastructure
Since 1967, communities and villages that produced a ‘master plan’ for the Israeli authorities could have their towns and villages officially recognised and thus legally connected to electricity and water. Those who have a master plan are not at risk of demolition. For the Bedouin people, however, a ‘master plan’ was not possible due to their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Due to the shortage of natural resources on the land, they had been forced to move their herds to wherever there was water and fodder for the animals. This resulted in them being unable to settle in and establish one community and therefore unable to provide a plan to the Israeli government.
While many communities have now hooked themselves up to electricity or have acquired generators, UN officials believe there are still a third of the 155 herding communities in the West Bank without electricity or a generator.
According to a report by B’Tselem, some Bedouin communities such as al-Hadidiyeh, situated in the north of the Jordan Valley, are ‘not hooked up to the power grid and do not have running water. The nearby settlements, on the other hand, are hooked up to the Israeli power grid and are supplied water by the Beka'ot 1 Pumping Station, which was built by the Israel's water company, Mekorot. Although the pumping station is adjacent to their land, residents of al-Hadidiyeh have no choice but to buy water from private contractors, who come to the area every few days and charge up to 200 shekels for 10 cubic meters of water, four times the price Mekorot charges in Israel and in the settlements.’
Psychological and cultural difficulties
Speaking to a UN forum on minority issues in Geneva in December 2010 Mohammed al Korshan, a West Bank Bedouin, explained the impact of the rapidly changing circumstances, after 2000.
“As a result of the new regulations we experienced parallel isolation - being cut off from our centre of life and from our secondary incomes - all in one day. The impact has been both economically and psychologically disruptive.
“When your existence in a place is threatened by danger and violence and your children are afraid and you no longer have access to natural resources to sustain your livestock, you move into survival mode and nothing in that state is sustainable”
Talking about the Israeli offer to relocate the Bedouin communities to ‘purpose-built’ villages, Mr Korshan argues that these villages do not have access to water resources or space for their animals. They are also not sensitive to the cultural and tribal differences between the different Bedouin communities.
“They say they will make different tribes live side by side in these villages and that the time for tribal identity is gone. This is not the Bedouin way of life. First they demolish our homes and displace us, and then they say they will force us to settle without any understanding of our livelihoods, our needs or our culture.”
These cultural differences between Bedouins also have an effect on the political life of the people. Tribal and clan differences have not been taken into account when electing community representatives resulting in tensions and ineffective village councils that fail to successfully express the voice of the people they serve.
Korshan explains, “With the coming of the Palestinian Authority in 1993 a new leadership system was implemented in rural areas. This system appointed a network of Village Councils across Area C, but the appointed person was not always the leader that we would naturally have elected as Bedouin communities according to our traditional elective system.
“This caused further splits in social groups as the family of the traditional leader would rise up against the family of the newly chosen head of village council. By diluting our traditional leadership the PA system has unwittingly combined with the Area C restrictions set out by the Occupying Power to bring the Bedouin in the West Bank to a critical point in their history.”
UNRWA, Area C Herders Factsheet, 2010.
*Written submission by Mohammed al Korshan, Representative of the Bedouin community of the West Bank to the UN Forum on Minority Issues , “Towards the effective participation of Minorities in Economic Life”, Geneva, 14-15 December 2010