Palestine
Adrian Guerin

Life on the frontline of a military occupation

The highway from Jerusalem to Jericho in the West Bank is lined with hills that are home to many of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. Until 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, they were semi-nomadic herders with access to vast amounts of grazing fields and water. Many are now targeted for transfer and forcible displacement as Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Fida, a girl from the Hamadeen family at Sateh al-Bahr (“Sea Level”), a Bedouin encampment located on a descending hill between Jerusalem and Jericho. There are 16 families of the Jahalin tribe living here, all at risk of demolition and forcible transfer from the Israeli military. The Jahalin is the largest refugee tribe in the West Bank today.

Nihal, a girl from the Jahalin tribe at Sateh al-Bahr (“Sea Level”). The illegal settlement of Mitzpeh Yerihois is perched atop the hills just out of frame. Settlements like Mitzpeh Yerihois dot the hilltops throughout the West Bank, looking down on Palestinian communities like Sateh al-Bahr. The enormous significance of Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank is difficult to grasp for those unfamiliar with the conflict. Settlements are strategically planned to not only disconnect Palestinian communities from each other, but to also separate them from their main metropolitan and religious centre: East Jerusalem. They often involve the displacement of local communities and the acquisition of their resources. By building settlements, Israel is essentially transferring its civilian population into the occupied territories (i.e. Palestine). Not only is this illegal under international law, it creates a spatial and economic reality that thwarts the prospect of ever creating a viable Palestinian state. And that, of course, is the ultimate goal. As ever, despite the brutal reality on the ground, the people I meet (like Nihal and her family) do not invite pity.

Mattress/trampoline, same thing. Sri, Nidah, Malek, Bilal & co. jump for joy in their back yard at Sateh al-Bahr, Palestine.

As the sun begins to set on another scorching day at the Sateh al-Bahr Bedouin camp in the West Bank, Palestine, Jameel walks his herd around the camp’s ever-shrinking perimeter. Grazing is done parallel to a highway, beneath an illegal Israeli settlement, surrounded by hills claimed by Israel as an official military zone. This all takes place on land that would form part of a future Palestinian state under the “Two-state solution’. Livestock and herding are crucial components of the Jahalin’s traditional lifestyle while the animal sector is an integral part of the local Palestinian economy. However, Israel’s relentless push to free up land in the West Bank for illegal Jewish settlements means the traditional lifestyle of the Jahalin will be almost impossible to sustain. But most importantly, Israel’s illegal colonisation of the West Bank undermines the chances of Palestine ever becoming a state; the more Israel continues to transfer its civilian population into the occupied Palestinian territories, the more entrenched this tragedy becomes.

This is Eid Khamis, spokesman of the Jahalin Association. I stayed with him and his family at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in July 2017, home to approximately 100-200 members of the Jahalin tribe. It is one of several Palestinian communities facing forced relocation because they are considered an obstacle to Israel’s plan to link West Jerusalem with the Israeli settlements that are colonising the West Bank. The camp is surrounded by the illegal Israeli settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’aleh Adumim, the same settlements who are petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court for Eid’s village to be demolished. Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, actually lives in the illegal settlement of Kfar Adumim. While forcible transfer of protected persons could constitute a war crime under international law, the case is heard in a local Israeli court. In other words, the occupier adjudicates on its own crimes.

While Israeli authorities say the goal of forcible transfer is to improve the Bedouin’s way of life, in reality it would mean the end of their traditional lifestyle. As Eid pointed out to me, the proposed relocation would result in the Jahalin moving to small lots in neighbourhoods where their livestock would be unable to graze. They would also continue to be in close proximity to illegal Israeli settlements and firing zones, creating a permanent risk to their safety.

This is the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, a dusty village made up of corrugated iron and animal skins about 10km from Jerusalem. The community and its donor-funded school have been fighting Israeli demolition orders for years. The school is a crucial part of the community, providing basic education and sports for the approximately 160 children who attend. While it might seem difficult to believe, EU-funded classrooms are often demolished by Israel in the West Bank. Israel considers it iIllegal for Beduoin communities to build anything new in their camps, including schools, as they inhibit Israel’s efforts to seize land for Jewish settlement expansion. While I was a guest at the camp I observed settler drones hovering above monitoring our activity. My host, Eid Khamis, told me surveillance drones are common in Bedouin communities to ensure no new constructions are built or any new assets acquired.

Israel’s system of apartheid in the occupied Jordan Valley (Area C), sees Palestinians governed by military law, while Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli civil law. This results in one set of rights for Jewish settlers (residency, legal, construction, access to natural resources etc.) and another for Palestinian Arabs. Although natural resources are plentiful in the Jordan Valley, essentials such as water can be scarce for Palestinians due to Israel’s discriminatory policies in water management. Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank consume copious amounts of water to nourish their crops, all pumped from wells that bar Palestinians.

For example, I stayed at the Sateh al-Bahr Bedouin encampment last July, where the the illegal settlement of Mitzpeh Yeriho is just a few hundred meters to the north. Approximately 50 metres from the Bedouin camp, the Israelis are building a well. However, while it is only metres from the Bedouin camp (and on land that would form part of a future Palestinian state), the Palestinian camp is barred from accessing it. The local Jahalin tribe access their water from a nearby village 4kms away. While stories such as these rarely enter the official narrative about the Israel-Palestine conflict, they are crucial to understanding the uneven power dynamic and silent injustices that define it.

Iman Dahouk prepares a customary Bedouin dinner at the village of Khan al-Ahmar, home to approximately 100 members of the Jahalin tribe. Chicken, rice, vegetables and flatbread are served up along with a variety of salads and veggies, washed down with sweet herbal tea. Despite offering money, the families I stayed with—from Sateh al-Bahr to Khan al-Ahmar—would not accept money. The Bedouins, who live a traditional life in tents and shacks, are refugees whose families were displaced from the Negev desert in the 1950s. Their village and its school have been issued with demolition orders from Israel as they seek to expand illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Part 1/2. This is Mohammad, a Palestinian boy I first shot in 2016 at his makeshift encampment in Jericho, Palestine. I was traipsing the hills off highway 449 when I noticed a number of camps scattered across the landscape in the distance. Mohammad’s father, Samir, spotted me and called for me to join he and his family for dinner and chai. After dinner they began tending to their livestock at dusk, allowing me to capture the incredible scene with my camera. It was this chance encounter with Mohammad and his father in 2016 that I first discovered the plight of Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank.

Part 2/2. I spent the months after this trip reading more about Palestinian Bedouins and promised myself I would return one day to document the issue in more depth. That day was in June 2017, and my first task was to seek out Samir and his son for a reunion (I had printed their shots in anticipation of a handover). I also had a translator pass on the many complements Samir’s children had received on social media. It was the first time I’d returned to a family I’d previously photographed, and it was slightly surreal reuniting with people whose memory had lived so vividly through my shots; they were so strangely familiar. Suffice to say, they were surprised (but happy) to see me.

When Jebreel saw me walking across the hills near his home, he rose to his feet and gestured for me to ‘Come! Come!’ Seeing how much I was sweating, he offered me some cold water, then sat me down for a home cooked lunch and introduced me to his beautiful family, who smiled the entire time.

Namah, a Palestinian Bedouin of the Al Zaid family, north of Jericho. Her community, like many in Area C of the West Bank, is at risk of being demolished by Israeli authorities. According to Israeli NGO, B’Tselem, Israel has demolished 252 Palestinian homes in the West Bank in 2016, leaving 1,062 people (including 553 minors) homeless.

Manar, a Palestinian Bedouin of the Al Zaid family, north of Jericho.

Lialee was the most apprehensive of the team about appearing in a portrait. She wanted to, but struggled to keep her eyes up long enough for the camera to click. She did though. And as soon as she heard that sound, she scuttled away giggling.

Omer’s playground.

Northeast of the Bedouin villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Sateh al-Bahr is the Jordan Valley. This fertile and lucrative strip of land makes up 30 per cent of the Palestinian West Bank. With its abundant water resources and ideal climatic conditions, it is perfect for year-round agricultural cultivation. However, Palestinians are excluded from entering or using about 94% of this land. In the background of this photo you can see a large grove of date palms on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of az-Zubaidat. The grove is just one example of the many tracts of fertile land that Israel has appropriated for its settler communities and civilian population. While the industrial scale of Israel’s agriculture yields significant returns for Israel’s economy, Palestinian farmers face so many restrictions that for many, farming is no longer profitable.

While the occupied Jordan Valley is one of the most restricted areas of the West Bank for Palestinians, Israel takes advantage of the occupation by exploiting almost all of the territory for its own needs. Not only does this reduce the chances of Palestine ever becoming an economically independent state, it also deprives Palestinian farmers of a livelihood.

The restrictions on local farmers in the Jordan Valley—from land confiscation to movement and transportation of goods—severely hampers their ability to sell produce locally, regionally or internationally. Those who live from agriculture are largely dependent on Israeli companies, meaning many agricultural products (water, seeds, fertilisers etc.) come at an inflated cost.

The struggling Palestinian economy and sparsity of land means many of the youth in the occupied territories are absolutely desperate for work. Perversely, this dire situation is viewed as an opportunity by the Israeli settlers who are colonising Palestinian land in the West Bank. These settlers know they can get hardworking, cheap Palestinian labour to not only grow their crops, but also grow their economy (from which Palestinians are excluded). In some cases, Palestinians work on land that has been expropriated from them, making them tenant workers on what used to be their own land. This all happens at bargain basement prices; Israeli civil law does not apply to Palestinians living under occupation, meaning they are subject to none of the benefits or minimum wage requirements that Israeli workers are entitled to by law. Palestinian teens doing hard labour to build the economy of their occupier is a cruel and bitter tragedy that remains largely unreported in mainstream media narratives about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

‘Firing Area Entrance Forbidden’.

Meet Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, activist, artist, poet and Advocacy Officer with the non-profit Jahalin Solidarity group. More than anyone, I owe thanks to Angie for supporting me and my work during my trip to the West Bank in 2017. She put me in contact with her field-guys, organised stays with several Bedouin communities and gave me a place to crash on my final night in Jerusalem. It’s pretty easy to figure out who’s who in this world, and Angie—with her passion, work ethic and humility—is the real deal. Motivated by her values and keen sense of justice (rather than salary, status or job title), Angie works tirelessly to support, protect and offer a voice to the Bedouin communities living under Israeli occupation. This shot was taken in Angie’s garden in Jerusalem, June 2017.