An unrecognized Beduin village in the South Hebron Hills faces likely demolition and relocation of its residents unless the Supreme Court intervenes in the case, which it heard Monday.The state says all the structures and tents in Dkeika, situated in an open area in the West Bank near the Green Line, were built illegally, and that it is not – and has never been – an actual village.Its plans call for Dkeika’s about 300 residents to be transferred two kilometers north to Hmeida, a Beduin village recognized during the 1980’s. While all the structures in Dkeika have demolition orders against them, in Hmeida people will be free to build without fear of demolition, the state says.But Dkeika residents, who say their village goes back more than a century, are refusing to move, saying they are living on their own land. “Why do they force me to leave my land?” said Odeh Najada, a resident who attended the Supreme Court session.”This is the land of my father and grandfather.We don’t have land in Hmeida and in Beduin tradition you don’t go to land that doesn’t belong to you. It’s taboo.”The NGO Rabbis for Human Rights has filed a petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of residents, seeking to overturn a 2014 decision by the Civil Administration rejecting a master plan devised on behalf of residents by Rassem Khamaisi, a town planner who teaches at the University of Haifa. Approval of Khamaisi’s plan would allow Dkeika residents to remain in place and build legally.In the court hearing Monday, Justice Neal Hendel said the court was considering issuing an order that would call on the state to more fully explain its position that rejection of the plan should be upheld. He said a decision on this would be made Monday or Tuesday.Hendel sharply criticized Dkeika residents for violating an undertaking not to build new structures while the case is heard. In exchange, the state had agreed to refrain from demolitions. “You have to remove this construction.
It’s a red line,” Hendel said.Najada said the new building was needed because the population is growing. “I have a human need to build. Life can’t stop,” he said.Asked by Judge Daphne Barak-Erez why the Dkeika residents cannot stay where they are, State Attorney Tadmor Etzion responded.“They have no ties to the land. There is no justification for creating a new settlement for such a small population.There is no infrastructure there.”“They will still be able to herd their sheep in the area where they herd them today,” she stressed.Etzion’s written response to the RHR petition says that research conducted by the state shows that there is no basis for claiming that a village has existed on the site for over 100 years. British mandatory plans make no mention of it, she wrote.Netta Amar-Shiff, representing Dkeika residents on behalf of RHR, told The Jerusalem Post: “They should be able to build on their own historic lands. We have aerial photos from 1945 to 2000 indicating the gradual expansion of Dkeika. Dkeika was there prior to 1967.Villages existing prior to 1967 cannot be relocated or destroyed.”“All the planning arguments of the Civil Administration’s planning committee are null and void,” she added. “They speak of dispersion. But Beduin have very clear social codes which regulate the organization of space. Beduin organization of space goes by families and there are internal rules on distances. The Civil Administration’s approach is not suitable for today’s thinking which takes into account participatory planning and planning which adopts itself to the culture and customs of the community.”The real reason the plan was rejected, Amar-Shiff alleged, is “the strategic location of Dkeika, which disrupts Jewish territorial contiguity between Hebron and the Negev.”She suggested a Jewish settlement could be built in place of Dkeika.In April, Housing Minister Yoav Gallant called for stepped up Jewish settlement in the Southern Hebron Hills. “The area of the Arad Valley and the South Hebron Hills has to be under the complete control of the State of Israel to ensure its sovereignty.The key to this is settlement,” he said.Amar-Shiff said forcing Dkeika residents to leave would be a “war crime by any legal interpretation. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the forcible transfer of protected populations from their places,” she said.
Israel"s Beduin housing challenge seen from the skies (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN & REUTERS)