Displaced and occupied: Bedouin refugees in the West Bank

For the Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley, a region in Area C of the West Bank where Israel maintains full civil and military control, displacement and dispossession have been part of life for over 70 years.

Most of the Bedouin in the Jordan Valley are refugees. Originating from five tribes in the Negev desert, they were expelled from or fled from their lands during and shortly following the creation of the state of Israel.

Strangled livelihoods

The Bedouin communities are traditionally either herders that roam the area to graze livestock, or farmers that need land to domesticate animals. Since Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank in 1967, however, their livelihoods have been strangled.

The Bedouin communities’ access to land and resources are severely restricted, with illegal settlements and outposts, closed military zones and checkpoints obstructing their freedom of movement. Harassment and violence from settlers is frequent too.

As a result, many Bedouin men now work on settlements as the only viable way to support their families.

Threat of demolition, displacement and forced transfer

Bedouin families face the constant threat of demolitions to homes and other structures such as schools, water tanks and toilets. Israeli authorities state that these structures are demolished as they were erected without an Israeli building permit. However, a restrictive and discriminatory planning regime makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain Israeli building permits. Between 2010 and 2014, Israeli authorities approved less than 2% of requests submitted for building permits by Palestinians.

Amid this coercive environment, the 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities in the West Bank are in danger of becoming displaced once more. These communities include Jabal al Baba, Khan al Ahmar and Susiya. According to the UN, they are at high-risk of demolition and forcible transfer due to a “relocation” plan advanced by Israeli authorities in recent years. Forcible transfer of these communities would constitute a war crime under international law.

Barriers accessing healthcare

Without Israeli permit approvals for Palestinian buildings the health infrastructure in the Jordan Valley is not able to develop. Consequently, there is not a single permanent healthcare centre for Palestinians in the area.

Bedouin communities are a particularly vulnerable and isolated group, with many having already experienced multiple displacements. UN figures have shown that 50% of Bedouin families lack access to water, 41% have no source of electricity and 84% cannot afford the transport costs to access health and education. Bedouins also suffer from high rates of malnutrition and elevated rates of accidents and hygiene-related hazards.

In partnership with the Islah Charitable Society, MAP provides a mobile clinic which serves 27 Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley. It provides vital primary care, health education sessions and hygiene kits to families.

Living under occupation

We spoke to women from Abu Kharabish and Treeshat, two Bedouin communities visited by the mobile clinic, to find out about the difference this vital service makes to their lives.

What are your living conditions like?

Jamila*:“The situation is very difficult. We are struggling. We live in metallic sheds. It gets very hot and we get tired. We do not have our own plot of land. I don’t even have a home I can rely on for shelter and security. We are always in fear of the Israeli jeeps and settlers that pass by.”

Tara*:“Israeli settlers cut off my village’s water supply. We have to fill our water tanks in other areas now. This is expensive, we need a tractor, which requires fuel, or have to go by taxi.

How do Israeli settlements impact your lives?

Khuloud*: “Settlers have come with their jeeps and driven around our village. They would come in the middle of the night to scare us. They stole our money.”

Tara: “Israeli settlers often come to my village. My husband used to herd sheep; that was our livelihood. But he had to stop because he couldn’t go far or the settlers would hit him and take the sheep. I was scared they’d kill him.”

Jamila: “Settlers are always stealing from our livelihoods. And what do they say? –‘You came too close to my home.’ No one dares stand up to them, they have guns. If we resist, they could shoot and kill us.”

Tara: “Now Bedouins rarely take their sheep to graze and many have been forced to find an alternative livelihood.”

Before the mobile clinic where did you receive healthcare?

Jamila: “We used to go to an UNRWA clinic. It would take over an hour and a half to reach by foot. If one of my children needed treatment they would have to come too. It gets very hot, so I would walk and rest, walk and rest.”

One time I had one of my children on my shoulders, and the other on my hip. One of them fell sick on our way back because it was so hot. I also had a lot of pain in my shoulders, legs and feet; my body was exhausted.

What do you think of the services the mobile clinic provides?

Tara: “It has made it much easier for me to take care of my son’s health. We no longer have to walk the long distance to the clinic. When my boy gets a cold, staff from the mobile clinic give me advice and any medication he needs. They also give him vitamins.”

Khuloud: “The staff also run health awareness sessions. Through these, I have learnt about the importance of breast feeding.”

Jamila: “The workshops have raised my awareness of breast cancer. I have also learnt about parenting methods, how to stay healthy when pregnant and what signs to look out for in a new born baby. We also had training on first aid and emergency care. The mobile clinic’s staff provide us with really useful information that the community benefits from.”

Tara: “It’s not just doctors and patients, we see the members of the clinic as family. They provide us with both physical and psychological support. Seeing them makes me smile.”

Thanks to you, MAP is able to help these communities stay on their land. As the 70th anniversary of the Nakba arrives your support is more vital than ever.

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*Names changes to protect identity

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