Eid Abu Khamis, an activist and spokesperson for the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar in Area C of the Occupied West Bank, discussed life under military occupation and the threats of demolition that have plagued his community in an event at the Allen Research Commons on Thursday, March 7.
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (which includes East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) began in 1967. Military forces have now been present in the region for over five decades, making the occupation — which is rife with reports of widespread violence and human rights abuses — the longest-standing of its kind.
Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian village in the Jerusalem Governorate of the West Bank, is populated mostly by Bedouin peoples, or nomads of Arab descent who typically inhabit desert regions. According to a report from Middle East Eye last month, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar in a bid to rouse support for his re-election.
Thursday night’s speaking event was co-hosted by J Street U at UW, Young Democrats at the UW, Amnesty International UW, and the Jackson School Student Association. Jeremy Voss, president of J Street U at UW, introduced the speaker.
“We should keep in mind how much power [university students] have on this issue,” Voss said, regarding the significance of Abu Khamis’ visit. “And why he’s talking to us.”
In his opening remarks, Voss touched on the lack of diverse education — such as information regarding the West Bank occupation and/or visits to Palestinian communities — in youth trips to Israel. Voss also referenced Huskies Against Demolitions, a UW student coalition that aims to prevent the proposed demolitions of West Bank villages. According to Voss, the coalition, which began in 2017 and uses the slogan #StopDemolitionsBuildPeace, recently succeeded in motivating members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to sign a letter in condemnation of the demolitions.
Following Voss’ introduction, Abu Khamis, speaking through translator Walid Farhud, began to share with students the struggles of life under occupation. He started off by describing the Bedouin as people who have “inhabited desert regions for 3,000 years” and have relied on the “offerings of the desert” (animals and land cultivation, the latter of which is illegal under the terms of occupation) for survival.
In 1951, Abu Khamis’ community was deported from their land due to its split existence between Israel proper and the West Bank. The people living in the former section (80 percent of the total population) were forcibly moved into the much smaller West Bank territories. In 1953, his family built a village in this region on land that had belonged to them prior to the 1967 occupation.
Abu Khamis discussed his beliefs regarding the nature of the occupation. He stated that, for the Israeli government, the “problem” is the state of Palestine. All actions directed by the Israeli government, and thus carried out by occupying military forces, are espoused to have been done in the name of “national security” for Israeli citizens.
In the fall of 1995, almost three decades after the occupation began, negotiators from Israel and Palestine signed the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, also known as the Oslo II Accord, which established elements of Palestinian Authority and Areas A, B, and C in the West Bank. The Israeli government designates these zones as “military territories,” despite the scattered presence of actual IDF forces.
Khan al-Ahmar falls within Area C — which contains the Israeli settlements and is controlled by Israel’s Judea and Samaria Area administration. Abu Khamis stated that Israeli settlements disrupt the lives of communities such as Khan al-Ahmar; frequently, he said, a settler “dressed in civilian clothes will enter the children’s school with a machine gun slung over his shoulder” — an act that reinforces the already constant state of fear present in Palestinian communities.
Abu Khamis referenced the attempts of the Israeli government to “motivate” communities like the Bedouin to move from their land. He named an example in which restrictions are routinely placed on the sale of Bedouin products in the Jerusalem marketplace; while in contrast, Israeli settlement products are widely distributed. This limitation on Bedouin commerce worsens an already dire economic situation present within the community. Abu Khamis believes products are restricted in an implicit effort by the Israeli government to economically force the community from their land — in this scenario, Israel would “play no recognizable hand” in the Bedouin departure.
Transnational organizations have often tried to assist communities like Khan al-Ahmar through the building of infrastructure such as schools and social centers. However, the Israeli government frequently attempts to inhibit these efforts. Ultimately, Abu Khamis explained, the government wishes to socially and economically isolate communities –– including the Bedouins –– to such an extent that they have no choice but to leave their homes.
“We can’t leave our land,” Abu Khamis said. “A Bedouin out of the desert is like a fish out of water.”
Abu Khamis concluded with suggestions as to how UW students and others can assist threatened communities in the occupied West Bank. He referenced a recent declaration signed by university students and government officials from the European Union condemning demolitions and implored American supporters to follow suit. He also stated that, if possible, students who are interested should visit communities under occupation in the West Bank to “see with their own eyes” the direness of the situation.
“I ask not for the moon or the sky,” Abu Khamis said, when referencing his hopes for the future. “I ask only for the rights of my kids to live in peace and harmony.”