Review of a Private Tour

by Fred Schlomka -

Today I had an interesting group of five visitors from Switzerland.

I picked them up at their Tel Aviv hotel in the early morning and proceeded to Route 5, a large four-lane highway which thrusts deep into the West Bank, due east of Tel Aviv. En route we stopped in the Palestinian-Israeli village of Kfur Qasim, site of an infamous massacre in 1956 by an over zealous army commander enforcing a curfew. After failing to tell the villagers of the 05.30 curfew, he ordered his soldiers to fire on unarmed farmers returning from their fields.  Dozens of dozens of men, women, and children were slaughtered that day. The people of Kfur Qasim, like all Palestinian villages, lived under military rule until 1966 when they were finally granted Israeli citizenship.

We sat in Achmad’s café in Kfur Qasim and reviewed some maps of the West Bank while I explained the deepening Occupation to the shocked Swiss group. Then we continued on Route 5, past two checkpoints and the large settlement of Ariel to the Central West Bank. The route included seeing sections of the separation barrier, segregated Palestinian roads, and numerous hilltop settlement outposts.

At Tapuach Junction we turned south on Route 60 and drove through several Palestinian villages overseen by the ubiquitous settlements on the hilltops. The countryside in this area is beautiful, with terraced hillsides of olive groves, and agricultural fields in the valleys. As we travelled through the valleys I explained about the Israel’s ongoing control of local water supplies, and the difficulties encountered by the local villagers.

Then we skirted around the east of Ramallah and the large Jerusalem suburban settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, stopping briefly at the north-east edge of the village of Anata to see a dual segregated road under construction, one side for Israelis, and one side for Palestinians with a wall in between. From there we took Route1 to the Dead Sea, seeing the huge settlement of Ma’ale Adumin ( pop. 35,000) on the top of a central ridge of the Judean Hills.

Route 1 is a four-lane highway that sweeps down to the Dead Sea and will eventually become an Israeli-only road as the Israeli government finishes the Palestinian-only road network. Passing Jericho we arrived at the Dead Sea and continued to Kibbutz Ein Gedi which maintains a developed section of the shore, complete with fresh water showers and a snack bar. The group took a brief plunge in the sea, and we paused for some refreshments.

Then onto Masada, the site of a famous Roman assault on a Jewish enclave. My Swiss friends went up the cable car while I started writing this blog post on my laptop. Unfortunately there is not wireless internet at the cable car ground station so I couldn’t download my email.  Lunch was the next order of business so we stopped at the hotel resort of En Bokek and had a quick lunch. Some of the group ate at Burger King while others took my advice and had a traditional ‘Shwarma’, sliced beef on a pitta with chips and salad.

After lunch we proceeded around the southern edge of the West Bank, passing the desert town of Arad to visit a Bedouin friend of mine in Alsera,  an unrecognized Bedouin village on in the Negev Desert. The area around the village looks a bit like a moonscape since the region is quite arid with a rocky surface and desert scrub. The village has no paved roads, no electricity, and contains a few dozen rude homes constructed from concrete blocks and sheet metal roofs. We see a large group of children are playing on a trash heap, and goats, chickens, donkeys, and the occasional camel fill the compounds around the homes.

Khalil greets us at the door of his home which is a bit more substantial than the surrounding houses. We sit in his patio, tea is served and Khalil begins to explain the hardships of his people. Alsera is one of 145 unrecognized villages,  housing about 165,000 people. The villages were never recognized by the Israeli government and do not appear on maps, despite the fact that the vast majority of them existed before the founding of the state in 1948, and were recognized by the prior British and Ottoman administrations through ‘customary law’. Khalil tells us that his family have lived there for seven generations.

His father joins us, an elderly distinguished gentleman with a goatee and sparkling white kafiyah (head covering).  He has raised a family of six children and tried to provide them with the best education he could. As a result, Khalil is a schoolteacher, has status in the community, and helps provide for the rest of the family. He has the only internet connection in the village, and through ingeniously placing a wireless router on his roof he provides internet access for the surrounding six homes of his brothers and nephews.

Khalil’s home also has a small array of photovoltaic panels on the roof, connected to an impressive bank of batteries that provide some of the electricity for his home. The main electric supply comes from a large diesel generator nearby which serves the power needs for a dozen houses.
After tea and coffee we are given a tour of the village, walking over the rocky unkempt ground between the homes. One of my visitors comments on the amount of trash littering the area and wonders why the villagers don’t dispose of it appropriately. I explain that they have no government trash collection, and in many traditional societies it was normal to throw out unwanted goods which were usually made of natural materials; reed baskets, wooden utensils etc. These would decompose naturally and cause no environmental or aesthetic problems. However as the Bedouin came into the modern age and began using plastic goods, they maintained their tradition methods of disposal, hence the unsightly litter. Education and government services would solve the problem.

By the end of the village tour it was 05.00 and time to head back to Tel Aviv. Goodbyes were said to Khalil’s family and the exhausted group had a nap during the one and a half hour trip back to Tel Aviv.

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2 comments:

  1. The Bedouin villages don't have education and government services because they don't pay any form of rates or taxes and aren't part of a local council or authority (out of choice). All Bedouin's have been offered housing will modern facilities in areas that are provided with public services, but they prefer to live in remote locations and be independent of rate collecting authorities.
    I do hope in future you will make this clear to your tour groups.

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  2. Well Julie, the Bedouin villages have their own councils of elders. However they are not recognized by the Israeli government. Many Bedouin work at wage paying jobs and pay income taxes like every other citizen. Many also serve in the Israeli military.

    It's interesting to note that when the government decides that more Jewish citizens are needed in remote locations of the Negev, then roads are built, utilities provided, agricultural assistance is offered, and land made available. Most 'pioneering' Jewish communities are a net loss to the country since our taxes support them for many years until their communities are viable.

    One has to wonder why the same resources are not plowed into the Bedouin communities.

    Also, the vast majority of Bedouin do not live in remote locations but within 50 kilometers of Be'er Sheva.

    See also http://www.toursinenglish.com/2007/01/negev-bedouin-under-seige.html

    Fred Schlomka

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