Schools, homes, hopes crushed
When I visited Israel 10 years ago with the lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel, my guides portrayed settlers as wild men and women who act independently of government in pursuit of a special religious vision.
I have to admit that before last week′s trip, I had wholly failed to grasp the extent to which the settlers have become part of the basic apparatus of the Israeli state.
There is colossal investment in infrastructure, roads, services and security for settlers. Meanwhile basic amenities and rudimentary security are denied to the Palestinians or – as the Balfour Declaration defines them – ″the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.″
In the West Bank, these ″non-Jewish communities″ are vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and detention. Their houses get demolished without warning. They live Kafkaesque lives subject to the whim of inaccessible and largely hostile authorities, with none of the rights that come with citizenship.
Checkpoints make even small journeys laborious, unpredictable and often impossible. Their life is dedicated to clinging on by their fingernails to their land while the settlers desperately try to prise it away.
Abdul Rahim Bisharat, 67, a Bedouin chief who lives in al-Hadidiya, an isolated hillside encampment above the Jordan Valley, told me how the Israeli army had confiscated his livestock, shot his animals from jeeps and even helicopters and repeatedly bulldozed his home. At one stage they attacked his tents 32 times in just 16 days, he said.
As we spoke, Bisharat′s 10-year-old daughter Somood served us tea. Her name means ″steadfastness″ in Arab: she was born while Israeli bulldozers were demolishing the camp. Somood′s education is a problem. Bisharat told me how he had built a school, only for it to be destroyed by the Israeli army. He tried to build a kindergarten. That was also destroyed.
In desperation the Bedouins decided to send their children to a school many kilometres away. This meant improving the track from the camp to the main road. But when they did this, the Israelis demolished their work.
The Israelis appear to be out to destroy the Bedouin way of life. That means driving them off their lands. It means the destruction of homes and livestock. It also means denying them access to water.