The Bedouins, as we encounter them today in the West Bank, have their roots in the Naqab (Negev) Desert, where they lived before their 1948 expulsion. The original inhabitants of the Naqab are a community of tribes with a common history and bloodline, who lived within a strict tribal system that included rules set up among the leaders. The descendants of the Jahaleen, Ka’abneh, Ramadin, Amarin, Hanajra, and Hadalin tribes moved with their flocks through the desert, searching for pasture and water. Their lifestyle was adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert and distinguished by their special values, codes of behaviour, and means of obtaining a livelihood, some of which they retain even today.
Between 1948 and 1951, many of these Bedouins, including the entire Jahaleen tribe, were forced to leave the Negev Desert and resettle in the West Bank. The displacement ruptured the Bedouin lifestyle and limited their former freedom of movement. In 1967 the Bedouins became refugees once more and finally settled in the rural areas around Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, and the Jordan Valley. The Israeli occupation of these territories further restricted their freedom of movement and many features of their traditional lifestyle underwent a drastic transformation. The goat-hair tent made room for metal shelters in overcrowded camps that lack the most basic facilities such as running water, sewage systems, or electricity.
Most of the Bedouin live in Israeli-controlled “C” areas but are holders of Palestinian identity cards. Bedouin communities often face eviction orders issued by the Israeli authorities and are subject to shelter demolitions. Due to severe restrictions that result from closed military areas, the Separation Wall, and nearby settlements, Bedouin encounter difficulties accessing water resources and grazing areas. Lack of water has already been a serious problem for livestock farming during the last years.
Lastly, drought in 2007, 2008 and 2009 posed a serious threat to the very existence of the herders. Bedouins are forced to transport water from a far distance to their camps, which is a very costly undertaking. Whereas water costs about NIS 5 per cubic meter, the cost of transportation for this amount of water is about NIS 20, an enormous price increase.
Affected by the drought have been also the rural areas southeast of Bethlehem and the eastern areas of Hebron. The acute drought in last years, the restricted access to land, and the dramatic increase of fodder prices by almost 300 percent have not only made the Bedouin herders’ communities extremely vulnerable but have caused the near-collapse of their animal production system.
Due to high fodder prices and pre-existing debts with fodder dealers, herders are often forced to reduce their flocks by selling large numbers of animals. The exhaustion of their only source of income poses a serious threat to their very existence and, at the same time, threatens the maintenance of their unique lifestyle.
They are among the most vulnerable people living in the entire West Bank and it has been finally acknowledged by international community their need for special protection and support from international donors
In order to preserve their lives as well as their traditions and lifestyle, the Bedouin are, more than ever, dependent from the attention and support of the international community.
In this framework, since 1997 CISP – mostly with the financial support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid General Directorate (ECHO) – has provided Bedouins with emergency relief items, water, food and fodder for animals as well as technical assistance and training in breeding techniques to survive within the chronic emergency they are experiencing.