How do you set up a stage in the middle of the desert? The Freedom Bus gets some help from the Bedouin children of Khan Al-Ahmar.
As the sun set on the sixth day of the September Freedom Ride, we drove through the steep hills and deep valleys that lead down to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. In a desert valley overlooked by hilltop settlements near Jerusalem, we found the tiny village of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin encampment of ramshackle hand-built shacks of tin, plastic and wood.
Khan al-Ahmar is situated between the Israeli settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, home to 35,000 settlers, and Kfar Adumim, both of which are illegal under international law. Many of the families that live in Khan al-Ahmar are from the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, who were displaced from the Naqab (Negev) desert in 1948 due to the creation of Israel. The Israeli settlements surrounding the village are planning to expand their territories and forcibly transfer the Bedouin communities in this area. This is a part of a larger plan – outlined to the UN by the Israeli authorities – which will give Israel the full control over Area C, 62% of the West Bank. The West Bank will be split into two cantons, wiping out any possibility of a future two-state solution. The plan would involve forcibly transferring around 27,000 people.
The children of the village helped us to clear space for a stage on a rocky outcrop, with the settlements in the distance and the bright desert moon above us. These children are educated in a purpose-built school built in Khan al-Ahmar by a European group. The school is also currently threatened with demolition.
The audience sat on small plastic chairs borrowed from the school buildings, long mattresses and rugs. The rough path up to the stage was lit by lanterns made by the children. In sharp contrast to the raucous crowds in Aida Camp, the Bedouin children watched the actors of the Freedom Bus perform in enraptured silence.
The Bedouin are frequent victims of violence at the hands of settlers. We heard a story from an older man called Ahmed about the death of his brother, who was hit by a settler’s car while on the way to school and killed. There was an investigation into the death but no one was ever brought to justice. “I am afraid of sending my children to a faraway school now,” he said, “We need our own school here.” It is clear that the loss of Khan al-Ahmar’s school would affect the community deeply.
We heard stories of shepherds who have been arrested for grazing sheep too close to the settlements, and whose flocks have been confiscated. We heard from a young Bedouin man about his arrest, imprisonment, and seven day interrogation at the hands of Israeli soldiers.
While settlers can build homes anywhere, these people are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life, and their homes are constantly under threat. Nonetheless, an older Bedouin man described the Bedouin as “fierce and resilient people” who will resist as long as they can. As one young Bedouin man put it, “The singer may die, but the song will live.”
Images by Al Mayuk, Bryan MacCormack and Natasha Andrews.