|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Plight of Indigenous Bedouin Palestinians
Bedouin Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank were in dire need of access to their traditional natural resources — rangeland and water — as well as basic health and education services, denied to them since their forcible displacement from the Negev Desert in 1948, community representative Mohamed Al Korshan said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Those and other rights of indigenous peoples living under occupation must be recognized and protected, said Mr. Korshan, one of the 40,000 Bedouin Palestinian residents of Area C of the West Bank, one of three such areas created by the 1993 Oslo Accords. Unlike Areas A and B, Area C is controlled and administered by Israeli authorities.
Today, the Bedouin faced a number of problems, Mr. Al Korshan said, explaining that lands which they could have used as rangelands and sources of water had instead been filled with settlements, nature reserves and military facilities. The vast majority of Bedouin in Area C lived in semi-permanent dwellings made of wood and metal, he said, adding that the Israeli authorities had issued eviction and demolition orders.
Furthermore, they continued to build their separation barrier, which had cut people off from badly-needed trade, he continued. Bedouin who had sold their livestock were now in deep unemployment. Their aim was to return to their tribal territories in the Negev Desert, he stressed. “We are part of Palestinian society, and if our economic situation is affected, so is that of all Palestinians.” While the Bedouin were not against the idea of settling down, any plans to do so must be made “by our own choice”.
Asked whether Bedouin rights had been denied by both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, and if he agreed with the Israeli Prime Minister’s comments that the West Bank was experiencing an economic boom, Mr. Korshan said the Israelis had forbidden the Palestinian Authority from providing any services to people in Area C, despite its wish to support them. However, occupation rules prevented it from doing so. It would be understandable if areas under Palestinian control were seeing an economic boom. “We are under Israeli control,” he said. “It is not the same for us.”
In response to a question about whether the Israeli-Palestinian peace process should be premised on the pre-1967 borders or the Oslo Accords, he said he was present to discuss the humanitarian situation, not for political reasons. The humanitarian and economic situation had grown “quite serious” for the Bedouin, and they were facing very difficult times.
Responding to a question about the Palestinian push for statehood at the United Nations, he said that, as Palestinians, the Bedouin wished to live in peace with their Israeli neighbours. “Peace is asked for by them. Peace is asked for by us. Peace is asked for by the whole world,” he pointed out. “I believe there will be an opportunity for us to live in peace together.”
Asked which rights must be recognized, and what the Israeli and Palestinian authorities could do to ensure them, Mr. Korshan said Bedouin Palestinians were displaced indigenous refugees living under occupation and, as such, they must be guaranteed access to natural resources for their livelihoods. “We are suffering a great deal and our economics are collapsing,” he added, emphasizing that the Bedouin right to free movement and seasonal migration must also be protected. They had Palestinian identity cards and birth certificates, he added.
Asked whether it was realistic for the Bedouin to be herders in the modern Palestinian era, he explained that herding had been their traditional livelihood even before 1948. However, life had grown harder under the occupation and they wished to join the developing world. “We know it’s 2011, but we don’t have alternative coping strategies right now,” he said. “We’re not against development. We would like education and alternative skills, but currently no one is helping us access those tools.”
* *** *