At a steep rocky hillside by the road that winds down to the Dead Sea, children of this Palestinian Bedouin community run up and down the rugged slopes, as goats graze on thorny weeds and sheep bleat nearby.
The encampment falls on a bare ridge between Jerusalem and Jericho, almost at sea level, as its name suggests. Just several hundred metres north lies the settlement of Mitzpeh Yeriho, built in 1977, a couple of decades after the Bedouin settled here.
Seventy people from the Hamadeen clan of the Jahalin tribe now call this area home. Their ancestors set up tents in Sateh al-Bahr in the aftermath of the 1948 war, after Israel expelled them from the Negev. The tribe itself dispersed to different locations in the Jordan Valley area, eking out a living mainly by raising livestock.
But the Bedouin here and in nearby communities are fearful of recently announced plans by Israeli authorities to move them from their encampments near Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Jericho. They, along with development and rights groups, believe the aim is to free up land to expand settlements in the area.
The plan is to cut the northern West Bank from the south,” said Jameel Hamadeen, a 32-year-old resident of Sateh al-Bahr, which is slated for demolition. “They will then transfer us to areas where our livestock can’t graze, destroying the animal sector, which the Palestinian economy partially depends on.”
Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied that the scheme aims to forcibly remove the Bedouins to make room for settlements, instead saying it is in the communities’ best interests – to improve their way of life.
“The master plan will facilitate the access of the population to main roads, schools, businesses, workplaces,” said a spokesperson for the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). “[It] will enable the Bedouins to be connected to all infrastructures needed: water, electricity, sewage (which they don’t have access to now).”
A total of 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaydeh tribes – 23 communities scattered east of Jerusalem – will be resettled there. COGAT puts the number of Bedouins who will be affected at approximately 1,500.
Tal al-Nueimeh will be the largest of three townships, which include Fasayil, north of the Jordan Valley, and the area adjacent to the garbage dump in Abu Dis, designated for the expelled communities.
Since April, there has also been a more aggressive Israeli push to demolish Bedouin structures in what’s known as E1, a 12-square-kilometre area of East Jerusalem that stretches to the settlement of Maale Adumim.
Demolitions in the Jerusalem periphery and E1 area have hit a five-year high, say development and rights groups, displacing 170 Bedouins, 91 of them children. Up until August, more structures had been destroyed in the E1 area than at any other comparable period in the past five years.
The data compiled by the Jerusalem-based Association of International Development Agencies – using UN figures – showed that more people were similarly displaced from their homes in the same time period.
Alarmed by the relocation plans, 42 Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations called for action “to stop Israeli plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouins out of their communities”.
The groups believe that the spate of demolitions is linked to plans to resettle the Bedouin in Tal al-Nueimeh, which is located on some 2,000 dunams (2sqr km). The land is slated to be split into half-dunam plots.
“The Bedouin – as the indigenous people in Palestine – are facing forcible transfer into camps where hundreds will be forced to live on no more than 500sqr m per family,” said Issam al-Aruri, director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre. “This is not sufficient space for them to keep their livelihoods.”
Sateh al-Bar and the other Bedouin communities will also be severed socially and economically from Jerusalem and Ramallah, where they often sell their animal produce. “This will also affect the Palestinian economy because the Bedouin community produces 13 percent of the local demand for dairy and red-meat products,” Aruri said