9 August 2020

Introduction

London - Over the decades, colonial countries claimed to colonize other countries with the aim of enlightening and developing them, but the fact of the matter is that these countries were based on replacing their inhabitants instead of the indigenous people of these areas through killing, displacement and extermination. This has left some of them remain in emigration and displacement with his people’s lost, and a reminder of the land with the faces of its first inhabitants.

After years of being dispatched and demanding justice; The United Nations General Assembly designated in 1994 on August 9 of each year, to be the "International Day of Indigenous Peoples", in order to commemorate their history and confirm their existence, and the topic this year will be "COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience". Therefore, on this day, the International platform of NGOs working for Palestine “iPalestine” sheds the light on the existence of these people in Palestine along with the role that must be enrolled by the civil society organization working for Palestine to protect these groups from the Corona pandemic and provide them with the assistance needed.

 

The Palestinian Case

Palestine has seen the most horrific massacres and ethnic cleansing in the 20th century until this moment. The Israeli occupation which began 72 years ago in 1948 and was preceded by a British mandate that lasted for years. The occupation adopted the policy of substituting European Jewish residents instead of the indigenous people in Palestine, raising the slogan "land without a people, and a people without land."

Different researches have revealed the transformation that affected the population groups on the historical land of Palestine before and after the declaration of the state of "Israel" in 1948. The percentage of Jews did not exceed 8% of the total population of Palestine in 1914 - according to the estimation of the Ottoman state - at that time. But in 1922, the Jews represented 11.1% of the total population, and then the number of Jews began to increase during the British Mandate due to the waves of organized immigration and genocide, until the eve of the declaration of the establishment of the "State of Israel" reached 31%.

Statistics of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that approximately 800,000 Palestinians out of 1.4 million people resided in the occupied territories in 1948, and were displaced from their villages and cities to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dispersed in neighboring Arab countries, in addition to thousands of others who were displaced, but they remained within the borders of the occupied territories. While Israel wants to flip realities claiming the absence of indigenous population in Palestine, 2020 statistics by SPCBS shows the presence of about 13 million Palestinians, more than half of whom reside inside Palestine, and it is expected that their number will exceed the number of Jews in Palestine during the next few years.

 

Who are the Indigenous Palestinian Bedouin refugees?

While all Palestinians are considered to be the indigenous people in the historical land of Palestine, there are specific tribes that are mainly referred to as the indigenous people in Palestine until the moment.  

After the Israeli declaration in 1948, the Jhalin Bedouin along with other four tribes (al-Kaabneh, al-Azazmeh, Al-Ramadin, and al-Rshaida), took refuge in the West Bank, which was under the Jordanian rule by then. Mentioned tribes are semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists which live in the countryside around Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho and the Jordan Valley. Today, these arears considered to be part of the “Area C” of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), which forms 60% of the West Bank. By the Oslo agreements, this area was temporarily given to Israel which was supposed to be gradually transferred back to the Palestinian sovereignty by 1999.

However, until today, this never happened and Israel still retaining control over Area C, along with enforcing laws regarding planning and constructions on the lands. This area includes industrial estates, military bases, homes for over 600,000 Israeli settler, natural resources, firing ranges, and all under the Israeli control. During the year, Israeli prevented Palestinians from over 200,000 hectares of their lands or farming in this area and allocated these lands to the Israeli settlers instead who have the privilege of enjoying all the rights equal to an Israeli citizen lives in Israel. Trump’s “Deal of the Century” along with Israel’s annexation plan approves the permeant sovereignty of Israel over these lands.

The situation of the Indigenous Palestinian Bedouin refugees is of 1948 living under full Israeli military control in Area C is taking the attention of the Palestinian civil society organizations in the West Bank and inside the green line which considered their situation to be a major humanitarian issue. According to studies made my such organizations, over 7,000 Bedouin, 60% of whom are children, are living in 46 regions around Jerusalem. Additionally, civil society organizations approved that any funded humanitarian structure to provide shelters, water tanks, schools, etc.) is immediately targeted by the Israeli military who hinders such support for the Indigenous Palestinian Bedouin refugees and threatens the existence of these groups by building new settlements.

Civil society organizations concerned with the rights of the Indigenous Palestinian Bedouins illustrates that the areas where these groups are located turned out to become valued as real estate ripe of development. Accordingly, these groups are living under the threat of being evacuated by the Israeli military forces in any minute. Additionally, they live with no civil rights nor services under brutal Israeli military restrictions, which mainly aims to force them to take the decision to leave by themselves. However, these Bedouin have no longer the right to choose to live as tranquil, traditional, pastoral headers in their origin lands like before.

 

Threats

Demolitions and Settlements: Civil society organizations concerned with the rights of the indigenous people in Palestine allocates donor-funded programs and prjects to fulfill the basic needs of those people, including clothes, food, water, tents, houses, schools, etc. However, while the basic needs in life are considered a major threat, the demolitions practiced by the Israeli military have continued to take place in nearby Bedouin communities such as Al-Muntar, Wadi abu Hinda, and Jabal al Baba. Due to the strategic location of those small towns as they are close to East-Jerusalem, Israel aims to apply Judaization on it to forbid the Palestinian indigenous people from entering the area. According to the reports of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) 68 Bedouin families were displaced and 17,959 herders affected throughout 2019 by demolitions, confiscations, the uprooting of agricultural trees or the destruction of 49 agricultural and 15 livelihood structures which left the responsibility on the civil society organization big to support the effected Palestinians.

Moreover, a huge need has been revealed for the civil society interference after the far-right, pro-settler Israeli NGO “Regavim” have called within the High court for the demolition of the school and village at al-Khan-al-Ahmar leaving the indigenous Palestinians with no home nor education for their children as a tactic to force them to leave. Civil society organizations working for Palestine, accordingly, condemned this demand and established projects action plans to rescue the education of the Palestinians in the area in case the demand was put into actions along with applying many complain letters to the international community to stop the Israeli violation for the international law.

Interference in Lifestyle’s Needs: Until today, Israel refuses to recognize the Bedouin as Indigenous, or to recognize any Indigenous Peoples in the Palestinian historical land. As settlement continues to spread all over Palestine rapidly, the undermining of a rich, invaluable Bedouin culture continues. Bedouin traditionally practice a semi-nomadic, non-consumerist way of life that is very related to the nature. Their main value is freedom and they have lived for ages with dignity, wisdom, patience and sustainability in harsh desert type of life. However, with the existence of the Israeli occupation, that way of living is no longer possible. Demolitions, settlement building, blocked access to their market in Jerusalem and the Israeli military zones that covers most of the desert deprived them the access to grazing and continue to strip Bedouin of their livelihoods and culture. These restrictions make it impossible for them to continue living their normal lifestyle forcing them to leave and live in a semi-urban area.

Lack of Access to Basic Needs: Unfortunately, especially with the lack of education among many of them especially the older generation, the only legal work opportunities available for the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin is working at the settlements as builders, cleaners, or factory workers; which doesn’t not belong to the Bedouin culture and lifestyle. Therefore, there is a huge need for projects to be led by the Palestinian civil organizations to first provide access to education for these groups and to provide them equipment’s to help them practice the work that they are used to and prefer to do.

Palestinians in Area C actually suffer from the lack of the most basic services. Many schools are demolished or have a threat of being demolished. Additionally, Israel doesn’t consider itself responsible for providing people living under its occupation with the basic needs like education, health services, and water as they used to provide in previous years. This forced Palestinian Bedouin to attend universities in the West Bank which get them out of their comfort zone at the desert

Climate Change: Israel and Palestine are now facing the implications of climate change, including longer summers, floods and forest fires which are occurring every year causing a lot of destructions. Therefore, extended summers that are accompanied with higher temperature than previous years cause extreme forest fires, however, Israel came to discover that if they lift uo the restrictions and allowed Bedouin to graze their goats in forests like they used to do before would lead to less combustible undergrowth to ignite. Also, while considered as the second most water-stressed nation on the planet, Israel do not give Palestinians and Bedouin access to water as a way to move them out of the Jordan Valley. Therefore, Israel is fount to prohibit Palestinians from digging new wells, while settlers have deep wells with fresh water leaving backwater for the Palestinian farmers. While settlers have access to over 300 liters of water per day, Israel give Palestinians in the West Bank access to only 73 liters of water every day. Nevertheless, Bedouin who can live with the least amounts of water and know how to conserve it, are prohibited from accessing almost all deserts of the OPT.

 

COVID 19, Civil Society and the Palestinian Indigenous People

On this day, the International Platform of NGOs working for Palestine “iPalestine” sheds the light on the need to spread awareness among the community and civil society organizations regarding the threats, needs, and rights of the Palestinian indigenous people especially within the COVID 19 pandemic and call on movements to provide them with access to the basic needs to protect them from the virus. Indigenous communities suffer from poor access to health care, as well as much higher rates of disease, lack of access to basic services, sanitation facilities, and other key preventive measures such as clean water, soaps, disinfectants, and others.

Likewise, available local medical facilities often suffer from poor equipment and a lack of staff. Even when indigenous people have access to health care services, they often face discrimination and humiliation. Therefore, the main factor is that civil society organizations with the support of the government should work together to ensure that services and facilities are available in indigenous languages ​​as appropriate.

Therefore, the work done by civil society organizations is very critical since Bedouin, for example, located in the Area C cannot reached by the PLO since it’s not under its authorization which brings the role played by international civil society organizations more urgent to support these groups during the pandemic.

Moreover, the traditional lifestyles of indigenous people are a reason for their resilience, but they can also be a source of threat at this time of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, most indigenous communities regularly organize large traditional gatherings to celebrate special occasions such as harvest where social distancing is not witnessed or paid attention to. Moreover, as most Palestinian indigenous communities do not have access to basic needs like proper houses or medical services it’s found that some of them live in generations that alternate with generations, putting the indigenous peoples and their families, especially the elderly, at risk. Therefore, the role of civil society organizations at this stage is to provide them with workshops and sessions to spread awareness about social distancing and hygiene.

As explained above, indigenous people in Palestine suffer from food insecurity due to the loss of their traditional lands and territories which mainly were allocated to Israeli settlers instead or because of the effects of climate change. So, they also face greater challenges in accessing food. By losing their traditional, often wild, livelihoods, many indigenous peoples who work in traditional occupations and subsistence economics or in the informal sector will be affected by this epidemic. Even the situation of Palestinian indigenous women - who often provide food for their families - is even more dangerous.

 

Conclusion

In this regard, and in order to raise awareness of the needs of these population groups, we celebrate on 9 August the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, especially today, when they most need us, and we need them most.

iPalestine, through this day works to highlight the importance of implementing the rights of the Palestinian indigenous peoples by civil society organizations through policies and programs at the regional and international levels to achieve this common goal by working with both the government, the public citizens, the indigenous peoples and other stakeholders.

iPalestine illustrates that the rights of indigenous peoples are specific rights which have a collective dimension and are claimed as historical and authentic rights, which must be recognized and practiced to ensure the survival and continued existence of the indigenous people. In order to achieve these rights, indigenous organizations should continue to seek to focus on five basic issues: land, the claim to control and the restoration of lands and areas in which the lives of indigenous people continue, and the generation and growth of generations of indigenous people have continued.