Ein al Hilweh and Umm Jamal: Facts on the ground

Israeli law is more than merely a battering ram to be used against Jewish settlers by leftist NGOs.

A Palestinian rides a donkey near Jericho in the southern part of the Jordan Valley January 1, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian rides a donkey near Jericho in the southern part of the Jordan Valley January 1, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Recently, various media outlets published news and editorial pieces about the Civil Administration’s intention to enforce “delimitation orders” on two Palestinian Beduin encampments in the Jordan Valley. Under the blazing headline “Stop the Evictions,” an editorial in Haaretz unleashed a full-scale attack, notifying readers in Israel and around the world that the State of Israel is planning to evict hundreds of unfortunate Palestinian Beduin, victims of recurring “illegal, unjustified and dangerous” Israeli actions, from two villages in Israel’s Jordan Valley – Ein al Hilweh and Umm Jamal.
Zehava Gal-On, who tweeted about it yesterday, told her readers that these villages “have been there for decades” and that they “are situated on private, Arab-owned land.” Yesterday, The Jerusalem Post’s Tova Lazaroff addressed the issue, as well.
Although Lazaroff’s article correctly described the “Palestinian Beduin villages” of Umm Jamal and Ein al Hilweh as illegal, that’s more or less where the factuality ends. Quoting attorney Tawfiq Jabareen, who represents these illegal encampments, Lazaroff repeated his patently false statement that “some of the families came 30 years ago from the South Hebron Hills and others were here before 1967.”
In fact, aerial photos taken as recently as 2004 show that there was no village – Beduin, Palestinian, or any other kind – in this area; aerial photos going back to 1999 debunk Jabareen’s claims altogether. At most, in certain seasons there were tents in the area, constructed for temporary shelter by the nomadic shepherds who passed through with their flocks. This hardly constitutes ownership, settlement, or historic claims to land.
Even worse, Lazaroff’s article fails to convey the absurdity of the situation on the ground in the Jordan Valley. The location of the “villages” of Ein al Hilweh and Umm Jamal endangers everyone who utilizes the roads and interchanges these illegal settlements are currently obstructing – including Jewish residents of Maskiot, Arab residents of Tubas, and the Beduin themselves. The Umm Jamal squatters’ camp has begun to encroach upon an IDF firing zone – putting the Beduin squatters themselves in grave danger. Why, we might well ask, would the United Nations Office for Coordination of Human Rights Affairs want the Civil Administration to permit their continued residence in a firing zone?
The government of Israel has repeatedly offered legal, organized alternative housing solutions to the Beduin currently squatting illegally on state and private land throughout Area C – solutions that the Palestinian Authority has consistently rejected. The Beduin of Umm Jamal, Ein al Hilweh and other illegal Beduin “settlements” have become pawns in the PA’s bid to establish a de facto Palestinian state in Area C – a systematic, calculated policy of illegal activity officially named “The Fayyad Plan.”
What’s worse, the UN and the EU have taken an active supporting role in carrying out this plan. Their continued construction of illegal buildings – homes, schools and community centers – in flagrant violation of Israeli and international law, Civil Administration procedures and High Court orders – is one of the strongest weapon in their anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian arsenal.
Perhaps the time has finally come for the strict standards applied to Jewish settlements – and the draconian measures taken by the state when the High Court orders their demolition and/or relocation – to be applied to Beduin squatters, as well. We welcome the new, even-handed approach of the Civil Administration: For nearly 15 years, the use of similar delimitation orders has been applied only in the case of Jewish settlements – which constitute a minute fraction of illegal construction in Area C. This discriminatory, even racist policy was finally amended in 2015, and it’s taken the Civil Administration more than two years to make use of the legitimate legal tools at its disposal to end the travesty of Beduin encroachment on and abuse of Israel’s greatest resource – land.
Israeli law is more than merely a battering ram to be used against Jewish settlers by leftist NGOs. It is intended to create and preserve livable conditions throughout the country. We at Regavim will continue to demand that Israel’s laws are universally and equally applied and upheld by all sectors and segments of society – for our mutual benefit.
The author is director of policy and government relations at Regavim.