Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir/TPS
A protest in the illegal Bedouin shanty town of Khan al Ahmar. July 4, 2018

Member of Knesset (MK) Mansour Abbas, of the Islamist Ra’am party and a member of Naftali Bennett’s coalition, is in constant contact with the Jahalin Bedouin residents living in Khan al-Ahmar and is working to regulate their status in Israel, including granting residency status to the tribe of about 500 members, but the Jahalin prefer full citizenship that will take them out from under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. This is the claim of residents of Khan al-Ahmar, as the High Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday to prevent evictions from the illegal post for another six months, at the request of the Israeli government.

The Jahalin Bedouin, the residents of Kahn Al-Ahmar, are an offshoot of a larger tribe based in southern Israel. After a blood feud that occurred within the tribe in the 1970s, some of the families were forced out and migrated north, arriving and settling in their present location after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The location of the illegal structures is hazardous due to its proximity to Highway 1, a major transportation artery. Khan al Ahmar overlooks the road that connects Jerusalem to the south of Israel in a strategic area.


Residents of the Khan say that Abbas is working to promote their willing eviction in exchange for residency, which was offered before him by the Netanyahu government in 2019 and which is intended to prevent forceful evictions, and is now gaining momentum under the Bennett government due to Abbas’ direct involvement with the Jahalin and as he is working for them “under the table,” as he defines it.

The outline was examined during the previous government and suggested that all residents of Khan al-Ahmar receive a blue ID card and receive the same status of the Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem, be entitled to land in the Negev, and that the state be the one to prepare the infrastructure for the tribe.

Mansour Abbas’ Plan
Mansour Abbas is working to end the Khan al-Ahmar crisis and settle the Jahalin in the Arad Valley. Recently, Abbas spoke several times with the residents, and MK Said Al-Haroumi, a member of his party who died a few weeks ago, visited the place four times. In a recent message from Abbas to the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, he said he was “working under the table to regulate the status of residents in the Arad area” and stressed that he conducted his activities in a quiet fashion for fear that right-wing elements and ministers in the Israeli government would oppose the plan and work to thwart it.

He told the Jahalin that he feared that Minister Ayelet Shaked might oppose any proposal regarding the transfer of the residents to the Arad area. Shaked’s office stated that no such proposal had been forwarded to her.

“Mansour Abbas told us that he has located land in the Arad Valley in the Negev where there is no Israeli communities or IDF camps, and infrastructure can be moved there and the Bedouin from the Jahalin tribe can be settled in a new campus, which will include schools, clinics, and new infrastructure, and an area of ​​no less than 500 dunams,” sources involved in the plan report.

The Jahalin also say that Abbas explained that a solution to the residents’ problem would save Israel from an international crisis and a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice, but could provoke an acute crisis within the government due to opposition from right-wing factions to the proposed move to relocate them in Israel.

The “Jahalin problem” is actually a problem that affects only 70 families from the Abu Dahuk family of the Jahalin tribe. They see how the Salamat family were settled near Ma’ale Adumim and Azaria near Jerusalem, members of the Sariya family built houses near the Ka’abna tribe in the southern Hebron Mountains, and how the Rashaida tribe settled in Bethlehem.

“Only the people of Abu Dahuk need a solution, there are 500 people and now it is hoped that Mansour Abbas will be able to secure their future in Arad in Israeli territory,” concludes one of the family members.

“The Jahalin people expect Mansour Abbas’ involvement to give them ‘new immigrant’ status in Israel,” said one of the sources involved with MK Abbas, adding that “this would allow the Israeli government to escape a political crisis and a serious crisis with the international community.”

A source involved in the contacts learned that the IDF’s Civil Administration fears that any such arrangement, regardless of Abbas’ efforts, could set a dangerous precedent for granting residency to some 300,000 Arabs with a similar status.

The Jahalin clan prefer to move to Israel and become citizens there. The younger Jahalin are encouraged by Abbas’ words but ask the tribal leaders to make sure that they enjoy full civil rights in Israel. “A very large part of the young people of the Abu Dahuk family who belong to the Jahalin tribe prefer to move to Israeli territory and be freed from the authority of the Palestinian Authority,” one of the tribal leaders explained.

“Young Bedouin want to secure their future away from the PA and live in Israel and even serve in the police,” says one Jahalin.

“We will not be able to live here if we accept the arrangement proposed by Mansour Abbas that the Palestinian Authority will persecute us because we will no longer serve soldiers on its behalf to protect the E1 territories,” he says.

“We will not be subject to the Palestinian Authority as part of a private arrangement with Israel that will leave us under Palestinian authority in the region. If Israel offers us a paradise in its territories, the Palestinian Authority will prefer that we live in hell in its territories,” said one of the Jahalin Bedouin leaders.

The fear among the Jahalin stems from the fact that the PA, which they say is preventing any settlement to the Khan al-Ahmar problem, will harm them if they accept a settlement with the Israeli government, even if they are granted residency in Israel without an agreement. However, a source in Fatah told TPS that “any arrangement that comes with the return of Arabs to Israel will also be acceptable to the PA.”

Against the background of the possibility of their transfer to Israel, the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar say that they will agree to move to the Arad area only if they are assured that they will receive full civil rights. One of the tribal leaders says “the youth and young people hope that Israel will grant them social rights.”

PA Wants to Prolong the Crisis
The Palestinian Authority is working to prevent the arrangements. In parallel with this move, which is intended to prevent the Israeli government from evacuating the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, the Palestinian Authority is working to prevent any settlement between the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, the Civil Administration and the IDF authorities.

In recent years, a number of possibilities have arisen for the resettlement of Jahalin in the Anata area or Nabi Musa, but the Palestinian Authority, especially Saib Erekat, who died several months ago, prevented the agreements, said a source in the Jahalin.

A senior Palestinian Authority official confirmed the allegations, saying “Erekat preferred to see Israel bleed in front of world opinion and in the international community, even at the cost of the well-being of Khan al-Ahmar residents.”

The proposal discussed from 2019 with the Israeli government was also blocked by the Palestinian Authority and PA officials signaled to the residents that they would not accept such an arrangement.

Residents of Khan Al-Ahmar say that the Palestinian Authority has in recent years made them serve as soldiers on its behalf and therefore it is preventing any arrangement to further exploit the residents to protect the E1 areas. “In order to prevent the evacuation of the residents, the Palestinian Authority demands the settlement of all 130 Bedouin families in the encampments in the Ma’ale Adumim and Kedar areas,” said a Fatah source, who is in charge of activities in the Khan al-Ahmar area.

“Let’s not play games and put everything on the table. The Palestinian Authority wants to prevent any arrangement that will allow Israel to gather all the Bedouin in one compound because that will allow Israeli construction in E1 areas,” said a senior Fatah official.

“We will not allow any private agreement between residents of Khan al-Ahmar and the Israeli government except as part of an agreement to be signed with the Palestinian Authority,” said a senior Fatah official, adding that “the PA will not oppose the transfer of residents to Israeli territory to set a precedent.”

“We are only material in the eyes of the PA. All the infrastructure here was laid by organizations from Europe and Israel and not from the PA, the solar panels, water facilities and services are an initiative of organizations while the PA, that uses us for its struggles, has not contributed anything,” said a Jahalin man.

Yoel Marshak’s Idea
There is also a proposal for the settlement of the Jahalin in the Kanaim Valley near Masada.

Yoel Marshak, a member of the kibbutz movement, is also assisting in the mediation efforts between the squatters and the Israeli government, people in Khan al-Ahmar said. Marshak recently toured with representatives of the Ministry of Defense, with the approval of Minister Benny Gantz, in the Kanaim Valley near Arad in order to allow the Jahalin settlement there in exchange for residency.

He said that about two years ago, Marshak was called by Khan al-Ahmar residents to help them and began contacts with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the villagers’ lawyers and even reached an agreement to evacuate the site about a kilometer and a half west. Marshak points out that Netanyahu was aware that this was an arrangement which purpose was to relocate the settlement in exchange for residency status as residents of eastern Jerusalem.

Marshak, like Jahalin, also told TPS that although he was in talks with the Palestinian Authority and reached a signed agreement with the village residents’ lawyer, who was fired by the PA two days later because “the PA is not ready for the Jahalin to move from Khan Al-Ahmar but wants blood, sweat and tears and a violent struggle that will lead the Israeli government to The Hague.”

Jahalin, however, now says that Mansour Abbas’ initiative is encouraging them because it will not leave them under the Palestinian Authority, which opposes any settlement.

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Baruch reports on Arab affairs for TPS.