Id Khamis Jahalin sits in his sparsely furnished, illegally-built shack, and worries about his future. A father of seven, he was born in this community of tents and shacks about ten miles east of Jerusalem.
Sitting on a thin mattress that substitutes for a couch during the day and a bed at night, Id Khamis told The Media Line that a new Israeli plan to relocate the Jahalin Bedouin community, “is the worst one yet. It is not appropriate for us at all. The place they want to move us to is surrounded on all four sides and it is very crowded. I am a Bedouin and I want to live like my parents.”
Id Khamis says he used to have more than 100 goats, but as grazing land became more limited, he ate or sold most of them. He also used to work in nearby Jewish communities built on post-1967 land such as Kfar Adumim, less than a mile away. But in 2009, when residents illegally built a new school out of mud and tires, He says all of the Bedouin here lost their jobs.
Since all of the homes are built without the approval of government authorities, there is no access to water or electricity. Id Khamis has installed solar panels outside which produce enough power to run a television and lights. He has no refrigerator.
“My wife has to work very hard preparing all of the food fresh,” he says with a smile.
Several years ago, Israel tried to move these Jahalin Bedouin, along with 22 other communities -- a total of 2300 people -- to another location near a garbage dump. Israeli lawyers hired by human rights organizations appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to thwart that plan. Id Khamis says the new plan is even worse.
“This is private land. It is not appropriate for Bedouin. It’s like a prison. It is surrounded on all four sides. I am a Bedouin…but this is not acceptable to me. Israelis wouldn’t want to live like this, either.”
Id Khamis says Israel is trying to remove all Palestinians from Area C, the 60 percent of land Israel acquired in the 1967 war over which it continues to hold both security and administrative control pursuant to the 1994 Oslo Accords. He sees it as proof that Israel is not interested in a long-term peace with the Palestinians.
“Once they have removed all the people, they will say that the land belongs to them,” Id Khamis argues. “This is like the last bullet in the head of the peace process.”
Israeli officials say the plan has not been finalized and they are not sure why the Jahalin are launching their objections now.
“They are living there illegally and we are looking at a series of options,” Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Civil Administration, the Israeli body which administers the post-1967 areas, told The Media Line. “One option is to relocate them to the Jordan Valley. We are working with the Palestinian Authority on a proposal for 800 building units, but it has not been decided.”
Inbar said the plan is being drafted by a Palestinian company was awarded the project in a bidding process, and that Israel is simply trying to improve the Jahalins’ quality of life.
“We are trying to improve the living standards of both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “We want the Bedouin to live in an area where they get all the infrastructure they need, like water and electricity, instead of living in tents that could be demolished.”
All of the structures in this village, including the school, have outstanding Israeli demolition orders against them.
Inbar said he was not sure why the plan’s detractors were coming forward now but insisted that nothing has been finalized.
But attorney Shlomo Lecker, who showed The Media Line a copy of the plan, said he had information that it will be presented in the next 2-3 weeks.
“The homes will be built on the outskirts of Jericho in Area A (which is under complete Palestinian control),” he explained. “Then Israel will use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Palestinians. They will offer to give the Palestinians this area in exchange for annexing part of Area C -- [where there are Israeli communities built on post-1967 lands].”
Lecker also says that temperatures in the Jordan Valley reach 120 degrees during the summer and most Bedouin will not be able to afford air conditioning.
Speaking to The Media Line, Stephen Wilkinson of the non-profit organization Dikania explained the position of those who accuse Israel of violating international law, a charge it denies. “According to the Geneva Convention, Israel, as the occupying power, has very clear obligations when it comes to the occupied people, in this case the Bedouin. Forcible transfer of protected populations is prohibited. International law can be very complicated, but on this issue it’s very clear that it is illegal,” he charged.