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Bedouin: From Eviction to Drought Crisis

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.01.2009:

Zinc barracks line the highway from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. From time to time, we get a glimpse of the Bedouin and what, for the outside observer, appears as a mysterious and unchanging way of life. In reality, they have not always lived in this place and manner. The Bedouin, as we encounter them today in the West Bank, have their roots in the Naqab (Negev) Desert, where they lived before their 1948 expulsion. The original inhabitants of the Naqab are a community of tribes with a common history and bloodline, who lived within a strict tribal system that included rules set up among the leaders. The descendants of the Jahaleen, Ka’abneh, Ramadin, Amarin, Hanajra, and Hadalin tribes moved with their flocks through the desert, searching for pasture and water. Their lifestyle was adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert and distinguished by their special values, codes of behaviour, and means of obtaining a livelihood, some of which they retain even today. Between 1948 and 1951, many of these Bedouin, including the entire Jahaleen tribe, were forced to leave the Negev Desert and resettle in the West Bank. The displacement ruptured the Bedouin lifestyle and limited their former freedom of movement. In 1967 the Bedouin became refugees once more and finally settled in the rural areas around Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, and the Jordan Valley. The Israeli occupation of these territories further restricted their freedom of movement and many features of their traditional lifestyle underwent a drastic transformation. The goat-hair tent made room for metal shelters in overcrowded camps that lack the most basic facilities such as running water, sewage systems, or electricity.

Most of the Bedouin live in Israeli-controlled “C” areas but are holders of Palestinian identity cards. Bedouin communities often face eviction orders issued by the Israeli authorities and are subject to shelter demolitions. Due to severe restrictions that result from closed military areas, the Separation Wall, and nearby settlements, Bedouin encounter difficulties accessing water resources and grazing areas. Although lack of water has already been a serious problem for livestock farming during the last few years, the current dro ught poses a serious threat to the very existence of the herders.

The last rainy season in the Jericho area, between roughly October 2007 and May 2008, had only 27 rainy days. Bedouin are forced to transport water from a far distance to their camps, which is a very costly undertaking. Whereas water costs about NIS 5 per cubic meter, the cost of transportation for this amount of water is about NIS 20, an enormous price increase.

Affected by the current drought are also the rural areas southeast of Bethlehem and the eastern areas of Hebron. The acute drought in 2007-2008, the restricted access to land, and the dramatic increase of fodder prices by almost 300 percent have not only made the Bedouin herders’ communities extremely vulnerable but have caused the near-collapse of their animal production system. Due to high fodder prices and pre-existing debts with fodder dealers, herders are often forced to reduce their flocks by selling large numbers of animals. The exhaustion of their only source of income poses a serious threat to their very existence and, at the same time, threatens the maintenance of their unique lifestyle.

The drought emergency response funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) is trying to alleviate the crisis situation of the herders’ livelihood. As part of the response, Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) supports approximately 500 Bedouin families belonging to the tribes of Rashaydeh, Ka’abneh, and Azazmeh, who receive fodder in order to reduce their costs and to prevent the risk of total collapse of animal production resulting from the crisis. In addition, herders from the Ta’amreh family who live in Kisan and the villages of Wadi al-Rim, Qinan al-Nam, and Juroun al-Louz as well as on the outskirts of Bani Na’im are included in the fodder distribution. In total, more than 3,500 people take part in this project, which is necessary in order to assist vulnerable groups affected by natural disasters and shelter demolitions.

With a very high poverty rate, the Bedouin are unable to absorb the economic crises resulting from such emergencies. Various humanitarian organisations that work in the West Bank have concluded that Bedouin society is most affected by the current drought. This acknowledgment is an important step towards the recognition that the Bedouin are one of the most vulnerable groups within the West Bank and that they need the special protection and support of international donors.

In 1948, the rights of the Palestinian Bedouin as indigenous people were violated. No specific legal framework to protect the rights of indigenous groups existed then. For sixty years, their right to live in their ancestral homeland has not been recognised. Finally, in September 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This represents a new opportunity for the international community and Palestinian society to consider the rights of the Bedouin as a minority group. The declaration recognises their right to maintain and develop their political, economic, and social systems. Furthermore, important protection standards for indigenous and tribal peoples were stipulated by the International Labour Organisation in June 1989.

In order to preserve their traditions and lifestyle, the Bedouin are, more than ever, dependent on the attention and support of the international community. The project of ECHO and CISP to support Bedouin in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas is one way to implement these international conventions for the Bedouin in the West Bank. Only through a common effort can we ensure that the integrity of the unique Bedouin lifestyle be preserved throughout the West Bank.

Courtesy of Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP).

This Week in Palestine

January 2009

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