This week’s blog has been submitted by Samaher and gives a fascinating report of life for the Bedouin communities living in East Jerusalem. Samaher is Palestinian and says that you can’t talk about East Jerusalem without referring to the Bedouin. Her knowledge comes from a combination of working on Bedouin issues as well as personal research. Many thanks to Samaher for sharing this!
The Bedouin are a grouping of Arab, originally nomadic, peoples who have historically inhabited desert regions in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and the Levant. The English word Bedouin comes from the Arabic ‘badawi’, which means “desert dweller”.
Most of the East Jerusalem Bedouin communities are located just a few kilometers East of Jerusalem. There, the hilly landscape slopes steeply towards the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, which marks the lowest point on Earth. While travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho you can easily see Bedouin camps on the hillsides.
The Bedouin tribes of East Jerusalem are divided into three families: Jahaleen, in the center and south of the West Bank, around 22 Jahaleen families are living in Khan al Ahmar in East Jerusalem. Ka’abneh are located near the Jordan Valley, in places such as Anata, Jaba’, Al Jeeb and Bir Nibala and Rashaydeh settle mainly to the South East of Bethlehem and in Ayn Duyouk and Ayn Al Sultan North East of Jericho.
The Bedouin are nomadic people who are descendants from Arabian desert nomads. The city of Jerusalem is comprised of about 48 square miles. East Jerusalem, one of 16 Palestinian divisions, contains about 133 square miles and some areas overlap. As a result, Bedouins literally find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
The Bedouin lifestyle relies on raising animals that graze on pasture lands. The Bedouin now face the threat of being stripped of the lifestyle they know, and thrown into an urban life with concrete houses and no mobility or room for grazing animals or for making a living. The stretch of land a Bedouin family roams is about 12 acres, an arid area of desert hills on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho and a West Bank settlement about 4 miles from Jerusalem.
In addition, the Bedouin lifestyle is represented by small and scattered communities, and even the houses of a single community are scattered, meaning the distance from one house to another may reach 100 meters and sometimes more than that, and the lifestyle that depends on livestock needs vast areas of land necessary for grazing. Shepherds, with their livestock, penetrate the closed military and firing areas, where sometimes their lives are at risk.
The Bedouins of East Jerusalem are living under special circumstances and suffer from political and cultural marginalisation. They suffer endless challenges such as water scarcity, a lack of schools and other forms of infrastructure. In addition, they are not allowed to build or graze their livestock and their land is often confiscated when the military moves in. In some places Bedouin children are chased and taunted by Israeli settlers so many parents no longer send their children to school or are schooling them at home.
Moreover, the Bedouin living in Palestine especially in East Jerusalem are always at risk of forcible transfer due to a “relocation” plan advanced by the Israeli authorities. The residents are not genuinely consulted about the plan; they firmly oppose it and insist on their right to return to their original homes and lands in the South. Khan Al Ahmar, Abu Nawwar and many others are examples of the Israeli violence against these communities, where they face demolition of their homes.
In general, the Bedouins are incredibly kind, hospitable and proud of their heritage. A guest to a Bedouin family will typically enjoy a meal of mansaf (a lamb, yogurt and rice speciality) and Arabic coffee or Bedouin tea around the campfire. A spoken agreement and a handshake mean more to them than written contacts. They are living proof that being civilized and nomadic are not mutually exclusive. All they ask is to be left to their chosen way of living, and they reward respect with respect.
If you would like to experience the East Jerusalem wilderness, then the winter months are the best time to enjoy the warmer areas there. You can meet Bedouin families at a homestay or Bedouin Camp. One of the best ways to see firsthand what their day-to-day life is like is to book a home stay. The Bedouin family of ’Arab Ar-Rashaida, located on the hilly slopes near the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, would be pleased to introduce you to their way of life and ancient traditions, as well as to be your companions and guides in the desert area. Longer tours lasting several days are also available.
Another option where you can experience Bedouin life is Sahari, which is a Bedouin driven eco-tourism initiative offering guided hikes along the ancient shepherding routes of the Palestinian West Bank. These are often known only to the Bedouin. In addition to guiding visitors on half-day and full-day desert walks of all levels, Sahari offers traditional Bedouin lunches, dinners and overnight stays under the stars in local communities.
As the culture of nature tourism steadily takes root in Palestine, Sahari’s guides are the first Bedouin in the West Bank to be certified by the Palestinian Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities. Their summer program also offers hiking, full moon events and tours by jeep as well as other Bedouin events.
If the Bedouin build any type of permanent structure it will be knocked down. They want a better life but is it even possible? Their presence in East Jerusalem makes resistance a part of their daily life. In addition, their resilience, and contentedness with only the basic necessities, makes it difficult for the authorities to control them. The struggle of these Palestinians to simply live securely in their homes exemplifies pure “sumud”, an Arabic word meaning steadfast perseverance, and a strong determination to stay in the country and on the land.