Jonathan Guyer writes: United Nations officials have issued a warning that the Government of Israel’s plans for Palestinian Bedouin communities living in Jerusalem’s periphery could constitute “mass forcible transfers” and “grave breaches” of international law. A pending plan in the West Bank threatens to displace Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village of refugees originally from Israel’s south, pushed off their indigenous land in the early 1950’s. Khan al-Ahmar lies on the side of a major West Bank thoroughfare and is sandwiched between the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumin and Jerusalem. This area is known as E1, an especially controversial 12 km patch of land where East Jerusalem would expand as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
It is impossible for Bedouins living here to obtain building permits from Israeli planning authorities, a situation that is not unique to Khan al-Ahmar. That Israeli officials consider Khan al-Ahmar’s local community school, which educates over 70 children from surrounding villages, to be illegally constructed might spell its imminent destruction.
Over tea — and then coffee — Id al-Jahalin, Khan al-Ahmar’s spokesman, described the perilous nature of day-to-day life in his village. There is neither running water nor electricity from a central grid here, and trash is burned as there is no waste pick-up by Israeli public services. Provocations from neighboring settlers punctuate daily routines in this pastoralist community.
The proposed site for re-residence of this community is a newly flattened plot just outside of Jerusalem, less than 100 meters from the municipal garbage dump, and in clear violation of international health standards. A thousand tons of rubbish from the Jerusalem municipality and settlements are trucked to this dump daily, making it the largest refuse site in the West Bank. An armed guard sitting atop a watch tower prohibits visitors from entering the dump. But from the proposed relocation site, one can see pipes coming out of the trash mountain, where methane gas is released in order to limit the internal combustion occurring underground. CO2 levels here are also dangerously high, according to UN officials. Standing in the squalid relocation site for the Bedouin community, the putrid scent of the dump is unbearable.
Maj. Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry’s administration office for the West Bank, would not provide a timeline for the development of these plots, only more than a stone’s throw from the dump. He said that environmental tests for the site were currently underway. “Whether a rubbish dump, a golden palace, or even Paris, I don’t want to go anywhere,” said Jahalin, also known as Abu Chamis. “It’s my right to have a village here. It’s my right for my children to have an education, and for us to live in dignity like any other human beings.”