Abu Ghassan has been blind since 1993 when he was only 27 years old. He sits on a battered plastic chair on an earth mound above the ruins of his home in Jabal al Baba. This small hilltop Bedouin village is reached by a steady four kilometres climb east of Jerusalem’s Old City. At 9am on March 12th this year, fifty Israeli soldiers arrived with a couple of bulldozers and razed his home to the ground. He and his family had no warning and no chance to remove any of their belongings. You can still see the remains of furniture and plumbing attachments in the rubble.
|The rubble of Abu Ghassan's demolished home|
|The Red Cross Tent|
Jabal al Baba is a small herding community, home to 40 families and about 250 sheep. The Bedouin inhabitants knew long before demolition orders were placed on 18 of its 26 buildings that their hilltop village was a strategic target for the Israeli Government. The Israeli separation barrier is still under construction in this area. When it is finished, it will be surrounded on three sides by the barrier, and cut off from the neighbouring town of Al Eizariya where the village children go to school. Since the building of the barrier commenced, they have suffered many home demolitions and the number of sheep - their livelihood - has declined from 600 to 250.
The reason for these problems is that the village of Jabal al Baba is part of the district known as E1. Israel plans to clear this area of its inhabitants in order to join its large illegal settlement Ma’ale Adumim to the rest of Jerusalem. There are plans to develop this strikingly beautiful area into settlement suburbs and facilities and even a nature reserve. However, it will result in East Jerusalem becoming a surrounded Palestinian bubble within Greater Jerusalem and have the further effect of completely dividing the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part. This will mean that travelling from the north to the south of Jerusalem, approximately a twenty minute journey by car, will take more like two to two and half hours.
|Taken from UN OCHA map December 2012. The brown areas are illegal Israeli settlements; the red line is the separation barrier (dotted red line was under construction in 2012, now finished) and the black line the intended route for the barrier|
Meanwhile, Abu Ghassan waits by his demolished house: son of a refugee from 1948, when many Bedouin were displaced from their home in the Negev desert, he is now three times a refugee. And he wonders where it will be next. Many of the Bedouin have been relocated in a place up against the separation wall near Abu Dis, a place where there is a large rubbish tip and many health problems resulting for humans and animals from the toxic effluent from the waste. The Bedouin here are placed in concrete houses with no grazing for their animals.
He asks again as we leave: ‘ Please tell our international friends … that will make a difference.’
* United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees
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