Thursday, December 03, 2020

Pope Mountain Bedouin community prepares for eviction as Israel undertakes E1 project

By Rhiannon F. - November 24, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Bedouin] [E1] [Eviction]

Situated east of Jerusalem, the Bedouin community of Jabal Al-Baba, translating to Pope Mountain, has lived on this hilltop since being forcibly displaced from the Negev Desert in the Nakba of 1948. The fear of once again being dispossessed looms over their heads, as a new eviction and demolition order has been issued by Israeli authorities, set to affect the entire community.

Hassan Mazarah, 29, lives in Jabal Al-Baba with his wife and three children. “This is a shame for humanity, where people are going to be displaced for a second time, under threats and guns and power from Israel. Our only dream is to herd sheep and live in this land,” Mazarah expressed.

While 14 demolition orders have been issued for Jabal Al-Baba and of these four demolitions have been executed since 1988, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitatian Affairs (OCHA), this new eviction is more concrete in its strategy.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the order is part of the so-called E1 project, designed to connect the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, adjacent to Jabal Al-Baba, to the city of Jerusalem, severing the West Bank in two pieces and cutting communication between the north and south.

Avaaz Community Organiser, Fadi Quran believes the land Jabal Al-Baba is built on is a strategic area for Israel, as it is one of the only hilltops near Jerusalem they are yet to build settlements on. “Israel wants to cleanse the Palestinians from this area, and surround Jerusalem with a ring of settlements so there will be no Palestinian State,” Quran said. He went on to say these demolitions “are part of Israeli systematic policy.”

The recent eviction notice was delivered by Israeli forces and staff of the Organization and Construction Department in the Israeli Civil Administration on November 16. The order states property owners are required to evacuate their houses within eight days of receiving the declaration. With this calculation, bulldozers are set to arrive by November 24.

Mazarah is steadfast in his position. “My message to the world is we are here to remain… if you demolish [our] land, we will rebuild.” Mazarah said the community is preparing for the coming demolition by solidifying their commitment to rebuild their homes.

“Bedouin life is simple, belongings are not difficult to replace. The bigger problem is, when the soldiers come and destroy our houses, they kill our dreams,” Mazarah said sadly. “My children were born in the last house they destroyed. So now when you sit and think in this [new] house, you cannot remember all of the memories. They killed our memories.”

Jabal Al-Baba is home to 57 families totalling 320 people, half of which are children. The structures to be demolished under the new order number 100 buildings, including those housing animals, and 58 residential homes. OCHA stated the Israeli authorities have justified the E1 settlement plan on the basis the Jabal Al-Baba residents lack rights over the land and the residents living conditions will improve if they move.

Mazarah believes Israel is taking advantage of the increasing political tension within the Middle East currently, as well as the backing of Donald Trump, “allowing Israel to continue their violations.” Quran agrees with this thought process. “[Israel] has been planning these demolitions for a long time. Now they see an opportunity with the chaos in the Middle East, they feel there is a window now,” Quran said.

The last time Mazarah’s house was demolished by Israeli forces was a year and a half ago. The current eviction notice in place is different to the last, as the attached map determines the whole community will be affected. “The fear of [our house being destroyed] is something we live with every single day,” Mazarah said, standing out the front of his home. “Recently, it has become more real, at any moment the Israelis can come and demolish it.”

Mohammed is the oldest son of Mazarah, now only three and a half years old. Mazarah said “he was very small” at the time of the last demolition, two years old. “When the soldiers destroyed our house he didn’t understand what happened, but now he always says to me, 'I can fight Israel,’” Mazarah said, with a smile on his face.

Mazarah’s son already knows the only way to fight is by not moving from their land and continuing to rebuild their houses. “That’s fighting Israel. The fight between us is about the land. When you stay here that’s the biggest resistance,” Mazarah explained his family’s stance.

The residents of Jabal Al-Baba Bedouin community also held a rally on November 23, a week after receiving an eviction notice from the Israeli authorities. The protest was supported by Avazz organisation and international activists. The community hopes such an action will send a message to the Israeli authorities and international community alike.

The silence of the international community is frustrating for those in Palestine fighting Israel’s illegal settlement expansion. “In 2014, the European Union told [Israel] the expansion of settlements is a red line, and if they crossed it, they would face sanctions,” Quran explained. These consequences haven’t eventuated.

Not only are the settlements themselves illegal under international law, but the relocation of entire Bedouin communities qualify as forced evictions and transfer, illegal under international humanitarian law and human rights law. Quran concludes the international community needs to enforce this red line and pressure Israel to halt their illegal policies.


Lead photo: Activists from the community wrote "we shall remain" in large characters on the hilltop earlier this year to protest Israeli plans. Courtesy of Avaaz.

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