Bedouin face expulsion to make way for settlers

The largest bedouin tribe in the Jerusalem area faces expulsion from its camps and has been told to live beside the city's main rubbish dump. The government wants to expand the Israeli settlement at Maale Adummim, east of Jerusalem.

The 1,500 members of the Jahalin bedouin tribe are the casualties of an accelerated government plan to strengthen a ring of Israeli settlements encircling Jerusalem. On a hilltop overlooking a wadi, where 16 families of the Abu Ghalia section of the tribe live, construction workers and bulldozers are working on homes for an extra 30,000 settlers before Jerusalem's status is determined in negotiations.

Within the past month a hillside has been levelled and covered with half-built homes. Suleiman Mazara, a member of the Jahalin, says: "We refuse to go and live by the rubbish dump at Abu Dis. Humans cannot survive there. We have certificates from doctors that it is an unhealthy place. It is rocky and there is nowhere for the bedouin to put their tents." At the same time the Abu Ghalia clan have difficulty staying where they are, as Maale Adummim now covers hillsides where they once grazed 300 goats.

The Jahalin are determined not to go until they get somewhere else to live. The tribe says it moved to the parched and then vacant hills between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea in 1950, when it was under Jordanian rule, after being forced to leave traditional lands at al-Arad, near Beersheba, in the Negev desert.

Turfa Abu Ghalia, 77, recalls: "The police gave us three days to move. Then soldiers came and attacked the tribe and frightened us, so everybody ran. We left our tents and took only our flocks."

Construction of Maale Ad- ummim started in 1978. It has become the largest Israeli settlement on the West Bank. A dormitory suburb for Jerusalem, its buildings are deserted during the day. As it expands, the Jahalin in their tents and shacks are being submerged. Villagers say blasting to clear the site for a school overlooking their camp sent a rock crashing through a tent roof.

The Jahalin see themselves as victims of a campaign of harassment. Mr Mazara says that last November "at about 4am a friend came to where I live to say the police and soldiers were arresting people. They tried to arrest Turfa Abu Ghalia but she resisted and we ended up having to take her to hospital. They took the men to Maale Adummim police station."

On Monday the tribe was jubilant after a High Court judge gave a stay of execution on an eviction order. But the tribe's rejoicing may be premature: their encampments look like islands amid construction machinery and half-built houses.

Turfa Abu Ghalia says she would like to go back to the Negev. "All we want is a place where we will have our children and our animals and where we will be left alone."