Bedouins around Ma’ale Adumim

Published: 
16 Nov 2013
Updated: 
18 May 2014

School in a Bedouin community that is scheduled for demolition, Khan al-Ahmar, near which the Ma’ale Adumim settlement was built. Photo: Anne Paq, activestills.org, 4 September 2011
School in Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community slated for demolition near which the Ma’ale Adumim settlement was built. Photo: Anne Paq, Activestills.org, 4 September 2011

Background

In the early 1950s, Bedouin of the Jahalin tribe were relocated from the Tal Arad (Tel Arad) area of the Negev in southern Israel to the West Bank. The displaced Bedouins contracted leases with Palestinian landowners for land in the area where the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim would later be built, and there they settled. The members of the tribe were nomadic, roaming in this area and in the Jordan Valley to graze the livestock on which their livelihood depended. After the occupation of the West Bank by Israel in 1967, the Israeli military increasingly restricted the Bedouins’ access to many of the grazing grounds. Little by little, they were forced into the vicinity of the Jerusalem‐Jericho road. There, until the 1980s, the Jahalin Bedouins established semi-permanent encampments, as well as at least two permanent structures.

In 1977, an Israeli laborers’ camp established on land appropriated from Palestinian villages in the area was recognized as a civilian community – the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The settlement’s boundaries, set in 1979, encompassed some 3,500 hectares; during the 1980s and 1990s, they were expanded to include another 1,300 hectares or so that Israel had declared state land. The principal part of this area comprises Area E1, where Israel plans to build additional neighborhoods to connect Ma’ale Adumim to the territory of Jerusalem. 

Expulsion of the Jahalin and their life at the alternate site

Top right: The Jahalin village. Bottom left: The entrance to the Abu Dis garbage dump. Photo: Sarit Michaeli, B'Tselem, 3 Nov. 2011
Top right: The Jahalin village. Bottom left: The entrance to the Abu Dis garbage dump. Photo: Sarit Michaeli, B'Tselem, 3 Nov. 2011

The establishment of Ma’ale Adumim had a markedly deleterious effect on the members of the Jahalin tribe. As far back as the 1980s, during development work for the first neighborhoods in the settlement, Israeli authorities demolished tent encampments and at least two permanent structures in which members of the tribe lived. In 1994, the Civil Administration relocated dozens of Jahalin families from land that had been allocated to a new neighborhood in the developing settlement to a site near the Jerusalem municipal garbage dump, on Abu Dis land that Israel had declared state land.

Two further forcible expulsions of groups of Jahalin were implemented in 1997 and 1998. Further to a petition by one of the groups, an agreement was drafted between its representatives and the head of the Civil Administration, and then affirmed by the High Court of Justice. Consequently, the group moved to a site near the garbage dump (hereinafter, the alternate site), where the Civil Administration leased them plots of land gratis and granted them building permits free of fees. The Civil Administration provided a connection to water for each lot, allocated land at the site for public buildings, and paid the evacuees up to NIS 38,000 per family as “full compensation” for the relocation. This arrangement was subsequently applied to all other families that had been forcibly evacuated. Currently,  approximately 190 families live at the alternate site in accordance with the conditions of this arrangement. 

Life at the site involves several serious problems for its residents. It is very close to the Abu Dis garbage dump, where approximately one ton of garbage has been trucked daily since July 2011 and more than 1,500 tons a day before that, mostly  from Jerusalem. The outermost buildings of the Jahalin are located only about 300 meters from the dump, subjecting them to a terrible stench. In response to a High Court petition filed by the municipality of Maale Adumim regarding the collection of taxes for use of the garbage dump, the State explained that large accumulations of methane gas have collected at the waste site over the years, and the fires that occur there “could cause the collapse of the mountain of waste”, which is liable to “cause severe environmental damage and even endanger lives.” Despite these statements, Israel has made no attempt to locate another site for the village of the Jahalin.  The waste collection site is scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2013, but even then, gases will continue to accumulate for some twenty years after refuse is no longer being buried there, and the planned rehabilitation process will take years.

The permanent homes at the alternate site prevent the relocated Jahalin from maintaining their traditional way of life, which relies on seasonal migration and raising livestock. The area allotted to each family at the site is small and unsuitable for keeping livestock. In addition, the military limits the Jahalins’ access to the land allotted them for grazing their flocks, forcing them to depend on purchasing costly fodder for the sheep. This has led many herders to sell off their livestock, and today only about 30% of the residents at the alternate site still earn a living from raising livestock. The others depend for their living on work as laborers, including in the nearby settlements. Another problem arises from that fact that although Israel has declared the alternate site state land, from the perspective of Palestinians, including the Jahalin there, the land belongs to the residents of Abu Dis, so the Jahalin are perceived as trespassers.

The threat of another expulsion

The Bedouins in the Ma’ale Adumim vicinity who were not expelled in the 1990s now number nearly 3,000, about half of them children. They live in tent encampments and sheet-metal shacks in over twenty clusters along the Jerusalem‐Jericho road and near Ma’ale Adumim. Most of the communities are of the Jahalin tribe (approx. 2,700 persons), one 80-person community is of the al-Kaabneh tribe, and one 150-person community is of the a‐Sawahra tribe.

These communities live under difficult conditions. Although they have lived in the area for decades, the Civil Administration refuses to prepare master plans for them, thereby denying them the possibility of legal construction. The Civil Administration issues demolition orders for buildings in Bedouin population centers, and in some cases, the orders are for all buildings in a particular community. The residents try to maintain their traditional shepherding way of life, but they have limited access to grazing land and to markets. In addition, they have few health, welfare and educational services at their disposal and physical infrastructure such as electricity, sewage and roads is entirely absent. Only about half of these communities are connected to the water pipelines.

Encampment of Jahalin Bedouins. (Background: Police station in E1). Photo: 'Ammar 'Awad, Reuters, 6 December 2012.Encampment of Jahalin Bedouins. (Background: Police station in E1). Photo: 'Ammar 'Awad, Reuters, 6 December 2012.

Two plans, intended to reinforce the settlement bloc in the Ma’ale Adumim area and connect it with Jerusalem, threaten the Bedouins in the area. One is the E1 Plan, which spans some 1,200 hectares of the jurisdictional area of Ma’ale Adumim, and area that is home to eleven of the Bedouin communities; the other is Israel’s plan to erect the Separation Barrier along a route that will leave Ma’ale Adumim and the settlements around it in an enclave of some 6,400 hectares linked to Israeli territory, severing them from the West Bank. Eighteen of the Bedouin communities live in the area of the planned enclave.

In 2005, the Civil Administration prepared a plan to relocate another two hundred or so Jahalin families to the alternate site near the Abu Dis garbage dump, on the “Palestinian” side of the Separation Barrier. The plan was to build the new houses as few as 150 meters from the waste site. The plan was approved by the Civil Administration’s planning authorities, but did not go into effect. In May 2012, Attorney Shlomo Lecker petitioned the High Court of Justice on behalf of Israeli human rights NGO Bimkom and some of the residents slated for displacement. The petitioners sought to have the Civil Administration rescind the evacuation, involve them in any subsequent planning concerning their future, and prevent expulsion pending a ruling on their petition. In its response, the State argued that its plan to transfer members of the tribe to an alternate site is part of the Civil Administration’s overall policy regarding Bedouins in the West Bank  n>and that it is meant “to achieve a permanent solution in accordance with the rule of law and to provide a reasonable standard of living to the rest of the tribe”.

In early 2012 the State advised that the Civil Administration had conducted a risk assessment regarding the relocation of the Jahalin to a site near the garbage dump, and only when the report is complete would a decision be made regarding final approval of the plan. In the meantime, no action would be taken on the ground, and if a decision is made to move forward with the plan, it would be resubmitted for objections and the petitioners would be able to register their objections.  Following this announcement, the petition was voided by agreement of the parties, emphasizing that “the authorities in the area reserve the right to continue to act with the aim of planning for the benefit of the Palestinians in general, and the Bedouin sector in particular, in all of Judea and Samaria”. In early May 2013, the Civil Administration had not yet published its decision concerning the plan for relocation to the garbage dump.

In September 2012, the State announced that two alternative sites in the Jericho area – Nu’eimeh North and Armonot Hashmonaim – were being considered for relocation of Bedouins from the area of Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’ale Adumim, adding that the relocation would be carried out through a process that would include representatives of the Jahalin.

According to press reports, in May 2013, the Civil Administration approved for filing a plan for establishing a permanent community on state lands in Area C for the Bedouins of the Nu’eimeh region. Given the location, this is appears to be an implementation of the plan of which the State notified the High Court of Justice regarding the Bedouins near Ma’ale Adumim. According to the reports, the Civil Administration plans to gather into this community Bedouins from various tribes who live in different areas of the West Bank, including the area of Ma’ale Adumim, without consulting them. As of August 2013, the plan has yet to be officially published.

The Khan al-Ahmar community and school

In early 2012 the State advised that the Civil Administration had conducted a risk assessment regarding the relocation of the Jahalin to a site near the garbage dump, and only when the report is complete would a decision be made regarding final approval of the plan. In the meantime, no action would be taken on the ground, and if a decision is made to move forward with the plan, it would be resubmitted for objections and the petitioners would be able to register their objections.  Following this announcement, the petition was voided by agreement of the parties, emphasizing that “the authorities in the area reserve the right to continue to act with the aim of planning for the benefit of the Palestinians in general, and the Bedouin sector in particular, in all of Judea and Samaria”. In early May 2014, the Civil Administration had not yet published its decision concerning the plan for relocation to the garbage dump. Given the developments detailed below, the plan appears to have been abandoned.

One structure built without permits in Bedouin communities is a primary school in Khan al-Ahmar. Established in June 2009, the building is made of mud and rubber tires. Before the school was opened, the village children had to go schools that were far distant, making trips that were both costly and risky. A month after the school opened, the Civil Administration issued it a demolition order, arguing that it was too close to a main road for which expansion plans have already been approved. Att. Shlomo Lecker filed a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of local Bedouins in the area, seeking that the demolition order be withdrawn. In September 2009, the settlements of Kfar Adumim, Alon and Nofei Prat petitioned the court together with Israeli organization Regavim that insists on , demanding implementation of the demolition orders issued for 257 Palestinian structures in their vicinity, including the school. 

In response to the Bedouin residents' petition, the Civil Administration agreed not to demolish the school before the end of the school year in June 2010, and declared that the plans to relocate the residents would include a new school. The Court therefore denied both petitions in March 2010. The school was not demolished at the end of the 2010 school year, nor the following year either. In August 2011, the settlements petitioned the High Court once more, seeking to have the military and the Civil Administration carry out the demolition orders for the school. In November 2011, the area’s Palestinian residents, represented by Att. Lecker, also re-petitioned the High Court, seeking that the demolition of the school be stayed pending completion of a master plan for a village community near Khan al-Ahmar’s current location, where the school could be rebuilt legally. In response to the petition by the settlements, the State announced in September 2012 that two alternative sites in the Jericho area – Nu’eimeh North and Armonot Hashmonaim – were being considered for relocation of the community of Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’ale Adumim, adding that the relocation would be carried out through a participatory process that would include representatives of the Jahalin, hopefully within a year. The State added that the demolition orders would not be carried out before the process was completed. In light of the State’s response, the Court chose not to intervene and rejected the petitions. 

In November 2013, the settlements petitioned the High Court a third time, reiterating their demand that the State carry out the demolition orders. In response, the State cited “the plan in process to relocate residents to an area north of Jericho, as part of the ‘Ramat Nu’eimeh’ master plan”, and informed the Court that the master plan for the Armonot Hashmona’im area had been deferred for the time being. The residents of Khan al-Ahmar were determinedly opposed to relocation to the Nu’eimeh area, and submitted a plan outlining the necessary construction and planning adjustments necessary to validate their current site of residence. The plan was rejected by the authorities. State representatives requested that the Court reject the petition, emphasizing that “it is important to bear in mind that we are dealing with school-age children, and transferring them to another educational framework, far from their place of residence, is undesirable”, and that “extreme sensitivity is called for before carrying out the demolition orders, in light of the implications for the abovementioned minors”. In May 2014, the Court rejected the petition, noting “the Respondents’ efforts to reach an amenable overall solution and their wish to avoid harming minors”.