Second in a two-part series
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian Bedouin boy rides a donkey near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim (background) in the West Bank near Jerusalem, May 17, 2009. Israeli authorities are ordering the demolition of Palestinian enclaves in the disputed territory.
A Palestinian Bedouin boy rides a donkey near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim (background) in the West Bank near Jerusalem, May 17, 2009. Israeli authorities are ordering the demolition of Palestinian enclaves in the disputed territory. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Outside Jerusalem, an Italian aid group has teamed up with Al Khan al Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin community, to build a school. Here, children play soccer near the school's construction site. But Israeli authorities have slated the school, along with other buildings, for demolition.
Outside Jerusalem, an Italian aid group has teamed up with Al Khan al Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin community, to build a school. Here, children play soccer near the school's construction site. But Israeli authorities have slated the school, along with other buildings, for demolition. Peter Kenyon/NPR
Volunteers work on one of the new school's four buildings.
Volunteers work on one of the new school's four buildings. Peter Kenyon/NPR
The school buildings are being built of old tires and mud.
The school buildings are being built of old tires and mud. Peter Kenyon/NPR
In the hills east of Jerusalem, a Palestinian Bedouin tribe lives in tents and ramshackle huts, wedged in between two expanding Jewish settlements.
Unable to bus their children to nearby schools, they invited an Italian aid group to help them build a school on a Bedouin budget: four small buildings made of used tires and mud.
But Israeli authorities have slated the primitive buildings in the disputed West Bank territory for demolition.
The Palestinian enclave is practically invisible to the cars and trucks whizzing up and down the steep road from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Dead Sea: small clusters of Bedouin tents, housing families of shepherds, the occasional camel and plenty of children.
On a recent day, a knot of boys and girls churns up the dust with an impromptu soccer game as the summer sun bakes the red clay soil. On the hill to the southwest is the leading edge of the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, with its gleaming white stone apartment buildings, landscaped yards and conveniences such as running water that are not available to the Bedouin. On the hill to the northeast lies another settlement, Kefar Adumim.
Both have been demanding permission to build more housing to accommodate their growing populations.
Bedouins Build A School
Mohammed Jahalin, head of the Bedouin Cooperative Committee, says many of the Palestinian families living here were displaced from the Negev Desert during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Until recently, they sent their children to schools in nearby towns. But then the problems started — sometimes monetary, sometimes political.
"The buses were being told by the Israeli authority not to come to us. The taxis were being told and harassed by the Israeli authorities not to come to us. We were left alone here. And therefore, we decided to build, out of material that is not costly, with the cooperation of an Italian NGO," he says.
The nearly completed school buildings are deceptively simple, one-room structures made by stacking used tires filled with dirt and gravel and then packing mud walls around them, with a basic plaster finish. Gaps near the roof allow hot air to escape.
Valerio Marazzi, an architect with the Italian non-governmental organization Vento Di Terra, or Wind of the Earth, became excited by the idea of copying a model he had seen in Latin America, using old tires and mud to create a cheap but stable structure.
"Here we have perfect, silty clay soil. With a little bit of mud, it becomes very strong and very good, very easy to use. So we fill up the tires with the soil and then we plaster everywhere," he says.
European and Israeli volunteers help provide labor for the project. As simple as they are, the four new buildings stand in sharp contrast to the weather-beaten tents and makeshift shelters Bedouin people live in here. In earlier days, these huts might have been covered with traditional goat hair. Now, strips of metal roofing or plastic tarps do the job.
Nomads No More
Yehiel Greniman with Rabbis for Human Rights says someone — he suspects someone from one of the settlements on the hills above — alerted the Israeli authorities to the new buildings, and they were quickly declared illegal.
"I don't see the logic of why we need to move the Bedouin from here and why we can't just work to make their lives better. If anything, this is something the Palestinian Authority and Israel should cooperate. Instead, they get kind of the runaround, bureaucratic runaround," he says.
Greniman says all the residents here have been given either a notice that their dwelling is illegal or a demolition order — and that goes for the new school buildings as well.
Rabbis for Human Rights has also been involved with another group of 2,000 Bedouin from the same tribe who used to live where the Maale Adumim settlement now stands. Greniman says they were shifted to the outskirts of a nearby Arab town, next to the municipal dump.
"It's clear to me that the Bedouin here need a solution, and putting them in a slum next to the city dump isn't a solution. And I think that it's a crime that after so long, now that they're not really nomadic anymore — they've been here 40 years — they don't have running water, they don't have basic, basic facilities, and it's time that they did," he says.
While the U.S.-Israeli dispute over Jewish settlement expansion threatens to block a resumption of Mideast peace efforts, residents here wonder if they will ever get the chance to use their new school, or if they will have to move to make room for more settlers.