by Brendan Welsh
The Twelfth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is currently meeting at the United Nations. The NGO Working Group on Israel-Palestine held a video screening of Nowhere Left to Go and a related briefing on the Jahalin Bedouin in our office on May 22. The briefing again raised the question of indigenous parents concerned for the wellbeing of their children, particularly their education.
We were blessed to host Eid Jahalin of the Jahalin Bedouin people and Angela Godfrey-Goldstein of the Jahalin Association. Eid spoke to us about the struggles of his people living in the West Bank of Palestine. According to Eid, a typical night for the Jahalin Bedouin desert herders, native to the Tel Arad region of the Negev, “includes a wide-open space in the desert, lots of land, lots of animals, and a tent.” Displaced for the last 60 years by Israeli settlements, the Jahalin have had neither animals, nor wide-open desert spaces, but only makeshift shacks and extreme poverty.
In the video, Abu Yuseff, a Bedouin leader who built the community’s only school with his own money, said, “whether it is in a school, or a tent, or a cave, education is education.” Yuseff added, “I hope that a group of our children will be come lawyers to defend our rights.” The school building itself, with walls made from mud and repurposed tires, currently has an Israeli demolition order on it, as it is a building in an “illegal community.” Just to go to the school the Jahalin Bedouin children must travel 5 km by foot and/or donkey, and after climbing over a concrete barrier, must also cross a dangerous road built by and for settlers. Several children have been hurt on the road, and ambulances serving the Jahalin Bedouin may only use rough dirt roads immediately adjacent to the newly paved highways when answering their calls for help. The adjacent roads themselves (one dirt, one paved), mirror the larger living situation of the Bedouin, who must scrape by day to day in dirt floor shacks, as they glance over at beautiful settler villas in towns with not only clean water and electricity, but also brand new schools, libraries, and swimming pools.
Eid said, “if they demolish the school, that would be the worst thing that could happen. I ask that you would defend our children’s school as if it were your own child’s school.” The school serves students 12 and under, as well as adults in literacy programs and children in kindergarten. The whole day made me extremely grateful for the wonderful education I have received in my country, which I have often taken for granted, and I hope and pray that the governments of countries with indigenous populations would start investing more in their young indigenous citizens, and in so doing, would ensure a better future for both their countries, and the global community.
This is a continuation of an earlier article I wrote on the Jahalin Bedouins in the West Bank, who became refugees after being forced to move to a repurposed garbage dump named Al Jabal village. Dawn Chatty, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford, said that the Jabal project is the “most unacceptable planned village for Bedouin that I have ever seen in the Middle East.” Professor Chatty had harsh words for the government responsible for the Bedouin’s now 16-year long predicament, saying, “my message to the Israeli Administration is that under the law of belligerent occupation, dumping a community on a garbage dump could be a war crime.”
The Ma’an Development Center has released three separate reports on Palestinian villages, herding communities, and Israeli Settlements in the Jordan Valley. You can find them here:
Dawn Chatty: http://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/people/academic-staff/chatty
Ma’an Development Center: http://www.maan-ctr.org/
Ma’an article 1: http://maan-ctr.org/pdfs/FSReport/Village/vf.pdf
Ma’an article 2: http://maan-ctr.org/pdfs/FSReport/cultivating/cultivating.pdf
Ma’an article 3: http://maan-ctr.org/pdfs/FSReport/Settlement/content.pdf