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The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

While protestors continue in their demands for Fateh and Hamas to end the division, there is another fragmentation that is leaving people detached from civil life and lacking a political voice.

The Bedouin families in the West Bank are suffering daily from the threat of settler violence and home demolition. Because of their sporadic and, often, isolated communities, they are unable to communicate and decide on an elected representative of their people. This is further complicated by the traditional tribal system that is still in place. Their identity is complicated. They are a minority people living under occupation, many of them as refugees.

Having been forced to leave the Negev in 1948, many of the Bedouin people moved up to the West Bank area in order to continue their semi-nomadic existence. While there was not enough land and natural resources to sustain an agricultural way of life, the Bedouin brought their precious livestock to the area in the hope that they could supply the strong market with the influx of Palestinian refugees to the area. As often occurs with herders, they moved to the outskirts of the land so as to provide their animals with free space to move and graze. While the women and children would remain with a small herd, the men of the family would return to the Negev area in order to tend to much larger herds thus providing a second, crucial income. Their permanent home, however, remained in the West Bank. This area, to the east of the West Bank, became area C in 1993/95 with the newly-signed Oslo Accords.

Area C is under full Israeli control although, according to the Oslo Accords, it was meant to have been gradually transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Because of the continued Israeli presence in the area, the chances of securing a permit for building a house or even a goat shed are very rare. With little choice, the Bedouin people, along with their Palestinian counterparts, are forced to build ‘illegally’ and thus incur the risk of demolition ordered by the Israeli civil administration.

It was not until 2000 and the intifada that the Israeli government decided to implement the Area C conditions of the Oslo Accords with a more severe interpretation. This meant that a new and suffocating permit system was put in place. The tight restrictions meant that the Bedouin men could no longer travel to the Negev to tend their large herds. They could not sustain the same numbers in the West Bank where they were competing for space with Palestinian herders and the increasing encroachment of settlers on the land thus they lost their vital second income.

So it was that in 2000, the livelihood of the Bedouin people started to collapse, and it happened quickly. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA has noted the disastrously rapid effect on the Bedouin culture and livelihood. A traditional way of life could no longer be sustained and poverty soon became a reality for many.

According to an UNRWA report on the Area C herders, a shortage of natural resources (many claimed or damaged by settlers) means that the Bedouin and Palestinian herders are unable to feed and water their animals. They are forced to buy food and water for their animals which means they can no longer compete in the livestock market because their costs are too high. In this situation, they begin to promise the offspring of their livestock to shopkeepers in order to feed their families. These promises become impossible to keep and financial debt unavoidable. UNRWA reported that some Bedouin families owe up to 30,000-40,000 Jordanian dinars (equivalent to British pounds).

As is often the case, it is the children of these families who must suffer most from their circumstances. The poverty that has affected their family in the last decade has meant that access to school is no longer a basic right. The average number of children in Bedouin families is seven but the family cannot afford the school bus for all these children. Therefore a gender divide appears with only the eldest son being sent to school.

A lack of education is sometimes the least of the children’s problems. Living in close proximity to settlements, the Bedouin people are regular victims of settler attacks against their families, home and livestock. Very often the makeshift homes lack a front door so the children have very little security both physically and mentally.

According to UN workers operating in the area, this fear manifests itself in severe speech defects amongst many Bedouin children, as well as many youngsters up to the age of 17 wetting the bed. They are mistrustful of ‘the other’, whether it is a UN worker or merely someone from a neighboring village, because of the constant invasions of settlers and government bulldozers which may claim their ‘illegal’ home at any time. Many families are worried that if the children go to school, by the time they come back their house may have been demolished and their parents forcibly removed from the area meaning their children will be unable to find them.

The constant insecurity of their financial situation and the ongoing threat from settlers and the Israeli military must lead to the inability to make plans for the future. When the Bedouin people are uncertain of where their next meal will come from or when the next bulldozer will destroy their home, they can surely only think about the short term. Families are unable to save money or complete higher education in order to better their situation and pull them out of the cycle of poverty. Much like other refugees in the area and abroad, their daily situation is so difficult that they are unable to invest in dreams and ambitions for themselves and their children.

Speaking to a UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva in December 2010, Mohamed Al Korshan, West Bank Bedouin and President of the Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee, said, “If you live in fear for the safety of your family, you do not think about investing in your future, your economic life becomes day by day.”

While many people around the world hope and plan for an officially-recognized Palestinian state in September it should be remembered that there are those who cannot afford such grand dreams. Those who are without electricity and income, those who are unable to send their children to school or put shoes on their feet, those who have no platform to express their views or predicament – these people must not be overlooked as we all look towards a united and independent Palestine.

Harriet Straughen is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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