settler violence
Foto: Peter Biro/EU/ECHO, via flickr | Lizenz: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Settler violence in the shadow of war: More and more Bedouin communities fleeing

Settler Violence: While Hamas and Israel are fighting each other in the Gaza Strip, radical groups are hunting Bedouins in the West Bank.

Taibeh/Maarajat/Duma (KNA). “I know very well that there are merciless wars and bullets between you and me. There are boundaries between you and me. You feel like a stranger in your homeland. Like you are an unwelcome guest.” Words of Alya Mhlat, Bedouin and writer in the desert region of the West Bank: Part of a war-torn region that has heated up into a powder keg.

The young activist sits with a sad but proud look under her wooden sunshade in the Bedouin settlement of Maarajat – for now. Because Israeli settlers are moving ever closer.

Photo: ISM Palestine, via flickr | Lizenz: CC BY-SA 2.0

Settler violence in the West Bank against Bedouin communities

On 7 October, when Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel, the world changed in the Middle East. For the Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank, too, the “black Shabbat” has become a sombre day.

With the eyes of the world on the Gaza Strip, the violence of radical Israeli settlers against the semi-nomadic shepherds has intensified significantly.

They hardly have to fear any consequences. At least 13 Bedouin communities have since fled their ancestral lands, Israeli human rights activists said in a call for help on Sunday. According to estimates by Guy Hirschfeld of the left-wing Jewish-Israeli organisation “Looking the Occupation in the Eye,” the number is closer to 20.

Photo: Collection Matson’s Palestine

Under repeated pressure to evict since 1948

The Wadi al-Sik valley was the first. Until 12 October, 40 Bedouin families lived here, about 230 to 240 people, says Abdelrachman Abu Baschar, representative of the Wadi al-Sik community of the Kaabneh tribe. Their story is similar to that of most of the approximately 40,000 Bedouins living in the occupied Palestinian territories today.

Expelled from the Negev Desert in 1948 during the founding of the Israeli state, the UN-recognised refugees were repeatedly subjected to expulsions in their search for a settlement area.

They found a home in Wadi al-Sik, east of Ramallah, in the 1970s and even opened their own school in 2016, which attracted Bedouin children from many neighbouring villages. Around the same time, Abu Bashar tells us, the Israeli authorities began serving the Bedouins demolition orders for their homes.

“Between 2020 and 2023, we could not build anything; every construction project, no matter how small, was destroyed. Then in February, a new outpost was added.”

Abu Bashar means Jewish settlement outposts, which are illegal not only under international law but also under Israeli law. For Guy Hirschfeld, they are simply “terror nests,” their radical inhabitants “terrorists.”

With the arrival of settler activist Neria Ben Pazi in the area in 2018, the terror against the Bedouin began, say Hirschfeld and his 71-year-old comrade-in-arms Hagar Geffen, who have been working for years to protect the many small Bedouin communities through accompaniment and presence programmes.

Ben Pazi does not answer press enquiries. Hirschfeld, too, has long since stopped talking to the extremist settlers – “since I understood that there is nothing to talk about” with those who see themselves as God-sent.

Photo: Animal People Forum, via flickr | Lizenz: CC BY-NC 2.0

Every new outpost draws new circles

Every new outpost starts the same way, the activists say: “two to four people with small flocks that slowly draw larger and larger circles.” This is what happened in Wadi al-Sik. When the war started, the settlers gave the Bedouins a “deadline” to leave.

Five days later, “dozens of them came; the Bedouins fled and left everything behind,” they say. “Everything usable and 50 pregnant sheep” the settlers looted from the Bedouins’ abandoned houses and fields during their foray, according to Abu Bashar.

Not the attackers, but five activists and three Palestinians were arrested in the incident: symptomatic in the eyes of activists and Palestinians. “When we call the police, they side with them and help them, not us,” says Abu Bashar. Two police cars suddenly stopping on the main road make the Bedouin take cover behind the wall of a nearby house, sheer fear on his face.

Distinguishing between the security forces and the settlers is impossible, says the Latin priest of nearby Taibeh, Bashar Fawadleh. “If they put on the uniform, they are police or military. If they take it off, they are settlers.”

Many of the families who have fled Wadi al-Sik have found refuge on the land of the Christian village. They are welcome there until a better solution is found. The settlers’ attack is directed at everyone without distinction: “Christians, Muslims, Bedouins, civilians,” Fawadleh said.

“The settlers are suffocating us,” says Sleiman Salame Zawahre of the Jahalin tribe in Rasch. The access road blocked, a house set on fire and two other houses with broken windows: in the end, the threat became too great. First, the Bedouins of Rasch brought their women and children to safety. Then, finally, themselves.

By the end of the war, they had found a place in the hills around Duma; 18 families, 85 people. There is a bit of hope here, they say. “What will happen then? No one knows.” A rubber duck lies in the reddish-brown soil, perhaps forgotten by the children while playing, perhaps lost in the hasty escape.

In Maarajat, too, they have already packed up. Here, too, an outpost has appeared. Strategically located, says Hagar Geffen, because it cuts the Bedouins off from their main grazing area. Here, too, there are demolition orders; here, too, the settlers come when it suits them.

“What happened in Wadi al-Sik scares us,” says Alya Mhlat. In a poem she writes, “Come on, you crazy. Why do you hesitate to come to our camp as an external helper? Come here! I promise to protect you like the dust of my homeland. Beloved, sacred, good…” In prose, her sentences sound different. “People have started hiding gold and valuables. They say before we leave, we will burn our houses so no settler will move in here.”

As she speaks, Israeli border guards stop one of Alya’s neighbours. His tractor with the water tank for the herd is disturbing public order; here, on the dusty desert path between Bedouin houses. The presence of the activists seems to have helped in this case: With the rallying cry of the right, the police van stomps away without further action. “Am Israel Chai – The people of Israel live!”

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