Al-Ka’abneh Bedouins made homeless in Beit Hanina
By Fatima Masri
Members of the Al-Ka'abneh Bedouin tribe amongst the ruins of what was once their home. All photos by Vivian Calle
On August 19th the Bedouin community of Beit Hanina -East Jerusalem- was brutally woken up by an Israeli raid that tore their homes to the ground.
An estimated two-hundred Israeli soldiers stormed the makeshift structures at around 6 AM, threatening its inhabitants with guns and forcing them out of the perimeter outlining the area in which all structures were to be demolished.
Mohammad 'Assem Izhiman Ka’abneh, one of the Bedouins living in the community, remembers: "We have been held at gun point by some soldiers while the others surrounded the area so that we could not defend our land."
Two dogs were employed to disperse the sheep and free the area for bulldozers to take action. In three hours, 53 people – 28 of which are children – were made homeless and obliged to witness while their houses being turned into debris.
The Israeli forces have set 28 August as a deadline for the Bedouins to clear up the remains of their own homes and leave the land. Mohammad 'Assem Izhiman Ka’abneh has been charged with the cost of the demolition of his own home, no less than 70,000 shekels. If his family is found still living on the land, in addition to the fee he will be jailed.
A view of some of the destroyed shelters with Israel's Separation Wall in the background.
Of the 53 Bedouins living in the area, only 18 are still present on the land. The children, accompanied by several adults, have been moved to a safer place, near Jericho. "We had nowhere to make them sleep, we are here under the sun," Mohammad says in grief. Unlike most Bedouin communities, in Beit Hanina, many of the children are registered at school and some of them have even reached university levels. Due to the displacement, the children will be forced to drop-out of their school in al-Ram, northeast of Jerusalem.
Nine tents have been provided by the Red Cross and Lajna al-Murabitin, a volunteer-based association that monitors the Israeli violations in Jerusalem. "No one else has given us any help. Bedouins are isolated, forgotten by the Palestinian Authority and by humanitarian organizations," says Mohammad, while pointing at the desolated scenario surrounding him. "Our hope is in God, but we also hope that someone will intervene before the 28th."
No alternative location has been proposed by the Israeli forces. The Ka’abneh clan has nowhere left to go. "We will scatter around", says Mohammad, "There is no other land in which we could move to all together." Family ties are severed; the Bedouin heritage is dismantled together with the makeshift structures.
The tiny plot of land in the outskirts of Beit Hanina is all these Bedouins know. Despite being present in the area since the 1950s, they have never been officially registered and, therefore, never had permission to move freely within the boundaries of Jerusalem. Isolated from Jerusalem on one side, in 2004 the Segregation wall cut off the community from the West Bank on the other side.
Once free, the land the Bedouins call home will soon be used to enlarge the adjacent Atarot settlement industrial area, despite legally being Palestinian private property. Israel uses the Absentee Property Law of 1950 to transfer the land abandoned by the Palestinian refugees of 1948 to the State of Israel. In East Jerusalem, anyone who was not present at the time of the annexation (1967) automatically lost its property. Home demolitions are frequently carried out on the pretext that the structures are built without permits, expressly denied to Palestinians, in clear national-ethnic discrimination.
Bedouins are in the frontline against the Israeli settlement expansion scheme, commonly referred to as the "Greater Jerusalem" plan, comprising a 440 square kilometre area linking 17 Jewish settlements and dozens of outposts to the city of Jerusalem. Less than one quarter of this area lies within the pre-1967 borders.
Nadi Sbeh, from the organisation, Lajna al-Murabitin, stresses the importance of the Beit Hanina episode: "I live in Shu’afat, far from here, but this is something that should concern all Palestinians. Today they demolished houses in this area, but tomorrow they could reach my home and the home of every Palestinian."
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICHAD) states that Israel’s policies entail not only displacement, but forced deportation, which may rise to the level of a war crime.
The intensity and aggressiveness with which Israel seeks to establish its dominion over Palestinian land provides a yardstick to measure its intention of establishing an occupation that can no longer be considered temporary.
A young Bedouin girl standing beside her families re-constructed shelter in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem.