Wedged between Jerusalem and Jericho with the threat of eviction looming large, al-Jahalin Palestinian-Bedouins were forcibly evicted from their homes during and following the Nakba. Today, many of the Bedouin villages and encampments within Jerusalem are under orders of demolition by the Occupying authorities who intend to relocate the entire population to one of many small villages outside Jericho. Today, the al-Jahalin are living in extremely difficult and precarious conditions.
The al-Jahalin community are refugees from the Tel Arad region of the Naqab, a territory that stretches 50 km northeast of Bir Essabe' (Be’er Sheva), 30 km west of the Dead Sea and 30 km south of al-Khalil (Hebron).1 Though it is deserted and vast, al-Jahalin adapted to the desertscape, grazing their flocks and migrating bi-annually to follow the rains and vegetation.2 Many from al-Jahalin still possess the Ottoman-era documents proving their ownership over the lands from which they were ethnically cleansed by Israeli authorities between 1949 and 1951.3 Most fled to the present day West Bank, settling in the semi-arid region which extends from Jerusalem to Jericho.4
The al-Jahalin who live in the Jerusalem area are centred around four regions: Anata, Wadi Abu Hindi, Khan al-Ahmar, and al-Jabal. Since they were displaced during the Nakba, the Israeli occupation authorities have refused to recognize al-Jahalin’s claim to their lands in Tel Arad and are unwilling to grant them rights to the lands they currently reside on. Additionally restrictions on their freedom of movement severely hamper their traditional style of life. This has forced many al-Jahalin to give up their flocks, and work instead as unskilled labourers.
The construction of the colony of Ma’ale Adumim in 1975, today one of the largest in the West Bank, has been slowly expropriating al-Jahalin land and tearing apart the fabric of their society. Yet in spite of these hardships, the Jahalin continue to graze small flocks where they can, rebuild demolished dwellings, establish councils and CBOs to mitigate the difficult living conditions, and maintain close familial ties.
As Zuhair Ibn Ayad, a Palestinian-Bedouin writer from the Naqab, argues in his article “al-Jahalin Bedouins: Another Exodus,” the struggle of the Jahalin cannot be separated from the struggle of the Palestinian-Bedouin communities in the Naqab because the intimidation, displacement, and demolitions faced by both communities are identical. Jahalin Bedouin are an extension of the Palestinian-Bedouin tribes that remain in the Naqab, but are also a living example of the larger story of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Jerusalem.5
In 1998, the Israeli occupation authorities forcibly transferred al-Jabal, an al-Jahalin community, to land in Area C on the northern slopes of al-‘Eizariyah, less than half a kilometre from the Jerusalem municipal dump. The move has been detrimental for al-Jabal and has caused the loss of residents’ traditional livelihood, mainly based on livestock, and the inevitable disintegration of the society which was based around small kinship groups.6
After their forced transfer, through concerted community efforts, residents were granted building permits and built the first permanent al-Jahalin-Bedouin village. Al-Jabal established a local council, built a school and a medical clinic, and began to provide services for the community. On the one hand, this example demonstrates the strength, perseverance and industriousness of al-Jahalin community. On the other hand, although some of the hardships have been eased by the council, Dawn Chatty, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford, has called al-Jabal the "most unacceptable planned village for Bedouin... in the Middle East.7
The proximity of the community to the dump has been predictably devastating. Significant health problems are common from toxic gases and surface fires, and pest-infestations have left livestock, youth, the elderly, and the sick, extremely vulnerable.8 9
This systematic displacement of al-Jahalin by the occupation authorities has torn apart the social and economic fabric of al-Jahalin community. As a result, their local culture has been virtually extinguished. Without access to land, many Jahalin have been forced to sell their herds and work as unskilled labourers. This loss of income has meant women are forced to take on additional responsibilities, such as making and selling handicrafts, alongside their traditional roles.10
In 1977 Israel confiscated more of al-Jahalin’s land to establish the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and in the early 1990s, the remaining land was put under full Israeli control - both administrative and security. The devastating effects of this displacement are apparent everywhere. The Wadi abu-Hindi Jahalin community that lives in the shadow of the Kedar settlement suffers from continual and repeated displacement. The occupying authority has refused to provide them with safe and reliable access to their homes. As such, they are forced to traverse a nearly impassable mountain path.11