General, Occupied Territories

RHR intern on visiting the Jahalin Bedouin community of Khan al Akhmar

0 Comments 22 June 2017

This month, Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) intern David Knopf, a student at the University of Maryland, visited the Jahalin Bedouin village of Khan al Akhmar with a group of rabbis from RHR. Many structures, including a special ecologically built school which RHR helped to build, are currently under the threat of demolition by the Israeli forces. 

Khan al Ahmar school

Khan al Ahmar school

By David Knopf

Before entering the Jalahin Bedouin camp in Khan al Akhmar, I had to hike some ten minutes alongside a four-lane highway eventually transferring to the other side via a tunnel, out of sight of any passerby on the road. In this sense, the Jahalin community seems to be on the periphery of Israeli society; many Bedouin camps can be found in the shadows of Israeli settlements, acting as remnants of displacement.

No issue is one sided. As I began my walk that day, conversations with friends serving in the Israeli army drifted through my head, “the Bedouin steal metal and resources,” “they build illegally and take land away from the army.” Nothing I saw that day or in any of my returning visits to the Jahalin Bedouin would have me convinced that they are anything but victims, an oppressed people without a voice.

Before I made it to the encampment that first day, a group of Bedouin children ran up to me. Clearly a foreigner, they tried out their English skills: “Money, money give us money” were the only words in their English vocabulary. These kids had just finished school and were playing in a nearby tunnel when they spotted us. They took a real interest in my camera, a combination of wild excitement and utter confusion. I noticed one girl, wearing a school uniform and two mismatched sandals, pressed down on the camera’s buttons with a bloody thumb. I wondered if there was a doctor in community; I later found out there was not. As we left the children and continued walking towards the village, I noticed some of them walking in the opposite direction, along a dirt path that seemed to only lead towards an arid wasteland. I found out later some of the school’s children walk for miles to attend classes.

I am welcomed to the Jahalin camp by a dead and mauled donkey alongside the path, dried blood surrounding its eyes. This corpse had a message, which is that it’s not easy to live here, and to live is to survive. Getting to the camp on foot was an incredibly difficult task for me, and I only could imagine the methods used to get resources like food into the camp, for there existed no formal roads.

Khan al Akhmar appeared to be more of a refugee camp than an organized community. All the buildings and structures were comprised of old, used, and repurposed materials. Walking in and out of homes made out of rusted tin and broken furniture, you have to be mindful not to cut yourself on many sharp protruding objects.

Many animals had broken out of their crudely made pens and were roaming freely around the village. Children would pop out behind closed doors or over a fence, at first timid but then would always try a smile. There were around 25 to 30 homes in the village, all built using repurposed materials and all considered illegal in the army’s eyes. Above the heavily impoverished village and off in the distance you could see cranes furthering construction on the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, where the road we had to sneak under led to.

After a tour of the village, I had the pleasure of being shown around the school. The school was soundest piece of infrastructure and architecture I had seen all day. Firm walls and roofs, electricity, bathrooms and flowing water. To the elders in the community, the school provides hope for a better future for their children. Students at the school are able to learn math, science, arts and important language skills like English and Arabic.

There have been multiple demolition orders for this school and all the makeshift homes in the encampment. The people here live under perpetual fear of displacement.

The school, along with all the homes of the Khan al Akhmar Jahalin Bedouin, were built without permits from the Israeli army’s Civil Administration. This means the structures are ‘illegal.’ However, since the village is not recognised by the state, it is impossible to obtain a building permit; meanwhile, the settlers in Kfar Adumim have had little difficulty building and expanding into territory which is supposed to be preserved for Palestinians.

Despite being built illegally, the destruction of the Khan al Akhmar school would be fundamentally unjust, discriminatory, and severely inhumane. The next closest school to the area is a 45 minute walk. For the Bedouin children, especially the girls who would not be permitted to travel so far from home, there are no other options. The school serves no evil purpose: it seeks to educate and empower a voiceless generation of an oppressed society. To destroy this school would be to further sweep the plight of the Jahalin Bedouin under rug.

No issue is one sided, but this situation wouldn’t be an issue unless the occupation wanted it to be. The victims of this demolition would be school children, who will grow up with memories of being forcefully removed from their beloved school and homes by soldiers before all their hope and hard work is torn down in front of their eyes by bulldozers.

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David Knopf interned with Rabbis for Human Rights. For more information on interning or volunteering with us, please contact Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann at [email protected]

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