KHAN AL-AHMAR, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Bedouin children play football barefoot in the dirt of their West Bank encampment, but they may not be able to enjoy the dusty piece of land for much longer.
Khan al-Ahmar, which lies between Jerusalem and Jericho, is one of more than 20 Palestinian Bedouin communities facing forced eviction.
Israel says the aim of the plan, under which 12,000 Bedouin from three tribes would be relocated to a purpose-built town, is to give them access to water, electricity and education.
The Bedouin see the move as a landgrab and are refusing to move from an area they have lived in for decades since being forced out of their ancestral homes in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
“This is neither an economic nor a social issue – this is about Jerusalem,” said Eid Khamis Sweilem, a spokesman for the Jahalin tribe.
Critics accuse Israel of seeking to extend its hold on lands east of Jerusalem, an area already peppered with Israeli settlements and largely empty of a Palestinian presence.
The Bedouin encampments of Khan al-Ahmar – home to roughly 800 people – lie east of Maaleh Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank with a population of about 40,000.
The expulsion would free up land for the settlement to expand eastwards, tightening Israel’s grip on a corridor extending from annexed east Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.
Palestinians say Israeli plans to build in the area threaten to sever the northern West Bank from the south, rendering the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
“The area stretching from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea will be completely Israeli. The two-state solution will be dead and buried,” Sweilem told AFP. “If we don’t stay, there will never be a Palestinian state. So we won’t move,” he said.
Rights groups have for years condemned Israel’s attempts to forcibly transfer Palestinians, including Bedouin, within the 60 per cent of the West Bank under its full control.
The Jahalin Bedouin are one of a number of clans of traditionally nomadic desert-dwelling Arabs.
Most were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands in the Negev in the years immediately after the 1948 war that accompanied Israel’s establishment, subsequently moving to the West Bank.
Sweilem said he would only accept relocation if it was to the Negev, but the area has been repopulated by Israel.