Campaign for the abolition of "Firing Zone 918" in South Hebron Hills

Ha’aretz: Israel dismantles Arab tent communities in West Bank, leaving residents to face the elements

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The Israeli authorities intend to dismantle the communities and concentrate the Bedouin, against their will, in two permanent neighborhoods near Jericho.

By Amira Hass,  Feb.03, 2013

The Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration are intensifying operations designed to uproot entire Palestinian communities. This holds true in three main areas in the West Bank: south of Mount Hebron, particularly villages defined as firing zone 918; the Khan al-Ahmar region ‏(between the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement and the Inn of the Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho‏), which is populated by Bedouin; and the northern Jordan Valley.

As the Israeli authorities see it, and as has been conveyed to the High Court of Justice and the communities’ representatives, villagers in the southern Mount Hebron area should move to the Yatta and Dahariya townships − that is, from Area C to Area A under exclusive Palestinian control − because the region is vital to IDF training and one village is located at an archaeological site. The Israeli authorities intend to dismantle the communities and concentrate the Bedouin, against their will, in two permanent neighborhoods near Jericho.

But in the northern Jordan Valley, during and after a demolition campaign from January 17 to 24, neither the IDF nor the Civil Administration informed Palestinian residents of their intentions. Local people say that on January 19, even though it was a Saturday, dozens of IDF soldiers came to Wadi al-Maleh − where until two decades ago a river flowed amid warmwater springs − to confiscate 32 emergency tents that the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations had given residents at the end of January 17.
During that day of demolitions, the soldiers checked each vehicle to ensure that it wasn’t bringing emergency humanitarian equipment to anyone whose tent had been destroyed and water tank emptied − anyone who had to head for the valley and hills without a roof over his head in the middle of the winter.

At the Yitav junction, north of Jericho, soldiers stopped a convoy that was transporting emergency relief materials; soldiers at other checkpoints confiscated two privately owned tents from one man’s car, investigated whether an old mattress in another person’s car was to be brought to the uprooted community, and doubted whether cold medicine in the car of an official from the Tubas district was for his private use.

Other dwellings demolished in 1967

For decades, three communities have lived in the Hammamat al-Maleh ‏(Maleh spa‏) area, in a place owned by the Latin patriarchate. The old structures − an inn from the Turkish era ‏(whose renovation is banned by Israel even though two families live there‏), the remains of a water mill and two simple stone structures where bathers would sit in the hot spring − are a reminder of the heritage of the site. The area once hosted other simple dwellings, which were demolished by the IDF in 1967.

A’aref Daraghme, head of the al-Maleh village council, mentions how in 1967 the IDF destroyed homes and structures belonging to around 30 villages and communities in the Jordan Valley, 17 of them in the northern part. Some residents left for Jordan; others took up residence in villages that weren’t destroyed. Those who remained made a living from herding and cultivating unirrigated crops such as wheat, barley and peas.

Since 1967 these communities have been fighting for their survival in between construction bans, movement restrictions, demolition orders, the drying of water sources due to drilling by the Mekorot water company, IDF training areas and huge agricultural areas allocated to settlements or designated as nature reserves.

Eight times during 2012 the army ordered Palestinian communities of shepherds and farmers to temporarily vacate their dwellings, due to its training exercises. Seventeen communities were affected. Daraghme says al-Maleh residents were ordered to leave their homes four times during 2012.

The last time, in the November cold, “people left their tents and gathered on the side of the road that leads to a nearby [paratrooper] camp,” Daraghme says. “The sky was their roof and the cold ground their mattress. Settlers from neighboring settlements [Rotem, Ro’i, Maskiyot] weren’t evicted. I want to understand: Settlers are not seriously endangered by tank shells and missiles fired during the training drills? The Jews’ army worries about us, Palestinians, and doesn’t care about the Jews’ safety?”

As Daraghme and Palestinian Authority officials who work in the Tubas district see it, the IDF uses training exercises to expel them permanently from the region. Their conclusion was reinforced at 6:30 A.M. on January 17, when bulldozers and jeeps, accompanied by Civil Administration people, entered residents’ tents and told them to leave quickly
Four workers in civilian dress pulled the residents’ meager possessions out of the tents. The bulldozers demolished the tents and makeshift structures and covered them with soil. Within four hours, 46 structures were demolished; 20 had been the residence of 60 people, 36 of them children; 20 had housed animals; five were used for cooking and one was a bathroom. Two large water tanks were also destroyed; their water ‏(which had been donated by Palestinian and international relief organizations‏) was lost.

“All the tents that were destroyed are worth much less than the cost of the demolition work itself, as well as the use of the vehicles, the soldiers and the bulldozers,” says Daraghme.

Propping up mobile checkpoints, the IDF shut down the region to Palestinian movement until nightfall. In the evening, PA officials managed to bring the the emergency tents.

The next day soldiers came and photographed the tents; the following day, January 19, they confiscated the tents. Work cessation or demolition orders that had been issued in the past applied to the tents because they were put up at the locale in question. The PA officials found a temporary solution: They erected the newly donated tents a few hundred meters from the original site, knowing that it would take the Civil Administration some time to issue new stop-work and demolition orders.

A tent becomes a home

On January 24 the bulldozers returned and smashed down four tents ‏(one for residents, three for livestock‏) that belonged to a family that had stubbornly refused to leave the original site. Daraghme, whose own tent was destroyed, says “you might see only a piece of cloth, but a tent becomes a home you get attached to.”

People from Hammamat al-Maleh say soldiers and Civil Administration officials warned them that if they returned they would be arrested and their livestock confiscated. Umm Mohammed, who last Monday came with her daughter to salvage torn material left by the bulldozers, heard the same warning.

On January 25 soldiers returned and photographed structures that remained standing, along with structures belonging to the farming community at nearby Al-Farisiya. “Photographs are a prelude to demolition, and the authorities plan to do to other tent communities in the region what they did to us,” Daraghme says. “Only the settlements will remain, because whatever is prohibited to us is allowed to settlers.”

In response, the IDF spokesman and the spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories say “the area in question is characterized by illegal building and attempts to trespass onto firing zones that decades ago were declared closed-off military areas, and any unauthorized entry into them, not to mention construction in them, is prohibited. Those who reside in these areas endanger their lives and break the law.

“The IDF regularly conducts training exercises in the Jordan Valley and in northern Samaria, [and the drills] are held on some of these lands. When need arises, the IDF, in coordination with the Civil Administration, takes steps to enforce the law by evacuating encroachers and demolishing illegal structures in these areas. It should be emphasized that the encroachers in these territories endanger their lives and reduce the scope of training space in the Jordan Valley.

“The IDF’s preference is to prevent the establishment of tent compounds rather than evacuating them after people start living in them. It should also be emphasized that during training drills, roads in the region are closed off due to safety considerations for all persons who travel in the region, including Israeli citizens.”

A security source told Haaretz that no order was given to soldiers to prevent the flow of humanitarian aid, and that most people who lived in the tent compounds normally live in villages (in Area A). The compounds were a supplementary living area, the source said.

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