Specter of E-1 Raised by Plan to Relocate Bedouin

On September 15, a website called the Alternative Information Center published a report entitled, “Thousands to be forcibly moved for settlement expansion.” On September 16, Haaretz published an article on the same story (by Amira Hass), entitled, “Israeli government plans to forcibly relocate 12,500 Bedouin.”   And on September 17, Haaretz published an article entitled, “West Bank Bedouin leaders reject relocation plan.”

The gist of the story is that the “Civil Administration” – the arm of the IDF that is effectively the sovereign power in the West Bank – is moving ahead with a plan that, if approved, will mean the forced relocation of thousands of Bedouin living on Jerusalem’s northeast periphery to a new “village” Israel will establish for them in the Jordan Valley, north of Jericho. The plan is in many ways similar to the Prawer Plan that Israeli authorities have for some time been seeking to implement in the Negev – similar in terms of what it seeks to do (i.e., transfer and consolidate Bedouin in permanent housing, locating in areas chosen by Israel), and how it is doing it (i.e., with little or no consultation with the Bedouin and little or no consideration of the wishes of the Bedouin).

At the same time, there are some important differences between this plan and the Prawer Plan. In the West Bank – where Israel does not claim sovereignty, whose residents have no vote in the elections that bring those making decisions about their welfare and future to power – under international law Israel is an occupying power. In this context, the forced expulsion/relocation of the Bedouin would have grave humanitarian and political implications.

In addition – and of interest to those who follow closely issues related to Jerusalem – this case involves an additional problematic element: The Bedouin to be forcibly removed include those living in the E-1 area.

Moreover, notwithstanding the reality that this conflict will only be resolved through political/diplomatic, rather than legal means, the fact is that it will be difficult to view the forced or coercive displacement and relocation of a vulnerable occupied population as anything less than a war crime for which those involved will be viewed as accountable under law. And E-1, long the quintessential example of the devastating impact of settlements on potential political agreements, is rapidly becoming the arena of best expressing the humanitarian meltdown that is accelerating under the occupation of the West Bank.

To be clear: there are no immediate and direct indications at this time that the Israeli government has plans to move ahead with E-1. At the same time, the effort to remove the Bedouin residents of the area should cause alarm bells to ring, as doing so will remove one of the few remaining impediments to expeditious implementation of the E-1 plan, should Netanyahu decide he wishes to go ahead with it.

The events unfolding in this desolate area to the east of Jerusalem appear to becoming increasingly pivotal. Will this be the place where the two-state solution will breathe its last breath, and Israel will morph into the kind of society that tests the ability of its closest allies to support it? Or will this be the turning point, where forces of moderation and friends of Israel begin to roll back the self-destructive policies entailed in perpetual occupation, that are leading Israeli authorities to engage in actions that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago?