- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

DAHANIYEH, Gaza Strip — Bedouins in this Gaza Strip village are petitioning Israeli courts for inclusion in next month’s evacuation of settlers and security forces, fearing violent retribution from their Palestinian neighbors who revile them as Israeli informants.

Many who worked with Israeli intelligence already have been given Israeli citizenship and will be offered residency after the pullout, scheduled to begin Aug. 15. But no such offer has been made to their relatives.

“We don’t know our destiny. We’re not Egyptians, we’re not Palestinians, and we’re not Israelis,” said Abu Ekhmeid, a resident of this hardscrabble village of 350 people at the junction of Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

“It’s dangerous to stay in the middle like this,” he said, insisting on using a pseudonym.

Haim Mandelbaum, a lawyer seeking Israeli protection for the Dahaniyeh residents, called for the Israeli government not to “abandon” the residents.



“It’s not about money; it’s about lives,” he said.

About 30 years ago, Israel struck a land-swap deal with clans of Sinai Bedouins, giving them Dahaniyeh in the Gaza Strip and farming land in the Sinai Peninsula in return for ancestral lands that became part of the Yamit settlement bloc.

When Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982, the Bedouins of Dahaniyeh remained in the Gaza Strip, thinking they would continue to have access to the Sinai grazing land. But the border remained closed, and the residents lost their Egyptian citizenship, leaving them stranded.

Their only income comes from employment at nearby Israeli greenhouses, which will shut down when the settlers leave.

The dusty town consists of crude one-floor cinder block homes and rickety animal pens constructed with tree branches and tarpaulins. Herds of goats wander through the streets, and little children imitate Israeli soldiers.

When Israel leaves, its population will be split between those with Israeli citizenship and those without it. Barring a favorable court decision, many fear they will lose even their Israeli work permits.

“My entire life is in Israel,” said Mr. Ekhmeid, 42, displaying a blue certificate allowing him permission to enter and work in Israel but not live there. “Even on my days off, I go to Tel Aviv to just walk around.”

The prospect of being left behind frightens Mr. Ekhmeid, who said his brother endured months of interrogations in a Palestinian jail before being relocated inside Israel 10 years ago.

For the past decade, Israel’s army has sealed off the town from Palestinian areas to protect its residents, maintaining it as a closed military zone. No photographs are permitted.

“We know all of them. They don’t make any problems,” said an Israeli soldier manning the gate between the Gaza Strip and Israel along the Egyptian border. “They are all Egyptians, but few of them are collaborators.”

But according to the Supreme Court appeal submitted by 77 residents of the village, many have worked with the Israelis, risking their lives to contribute to Israel’s security.

“The state of Israel as the employer of some of the Dahaniyeh residents in security activities turned them into the enemies of the Palestinians and the Arabs,” said the petition, which argued that Israel “has a legal, moral and humanitarian obligation to protect their security and well-being.”

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim acknowledged “strong ties” with the Bedouins of Dahaniyeh and promised that Israel will offer residency to anyone who requests it. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said such claims would be reviewed on a “case-by-case basis.”

There are still some families who want to remain in the Gaza Strip, saying they don’t fear punishment because they did not work for the security forces. Odeh Irmilat, a village elder who remembers life in Sinai, said he doesn’t want to become part of a minority in the Jewish state.

“Different people have different opinions. Even fathers and sons” disagree, he said. “Most of the new generation only know life under Israel, so they want to go there.”

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