by Irene, Jordan Valley team
Child walks home from school along the ‘peace road’ demolished by the Israeli army in 2011, al – Aqaba. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14.
Al Aqaba is a picturesque village; located in the Northeast of the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank. Palestinian communities have lived in the valleys and caves of this fertile region for thousands of years. In 1967, the Israeli military occupied the West Bank and in the 1990s Oslo accords divided the total area of West Bank into administrative Areas A, B, and C. The al Aqaba region was included in the 60 percent of the West Bank, classified as Area C, it is subject to the Israeli Civil Administration’s zoning authority and regulations.
The EAs in the Jordan Valley visited the village on three occasions between October and November 2014. Over the course of these visits we were given glimpsed the reality of life under occupation and learned what it means to live in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank.
Al Aqaba is home to the worlds only peace mosque. It has a distinct twin spired minaret which symbolizing peace and V for victory. Photo EAPPI/ I. Tanner.
On 23 October 2014, we meet with Haj Sami Sadeq Mayor of al Aqaba for the first time and ask him what are the main problems facing the community.
He leads us outside and points out a platoon of Israeli soldiers training on the hill behind the kindergarten. The roar of a low flying military jet interrupts our conversation. Haj Sami continues:
“Just yesterday they were shooting bombs from one hill to the other. If something fell it could kill people.”
Haj Sami Sadeq shows EAs military training exercises on the outskirts of the village. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14.
A low flying military jet seen over Al Aqaba. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14.
Children play in Al Aqaba kindergarten while Israeli army does military exercises in the background, Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14,.
Since 1967 most of the land in the greater Al Aqaba area (90%) was confiscated by the Israeli Government and is now used for military training exercises.
“Al Aqaba is now like Gaza; every day the soldiers are coming.”
Military training in Al Aqaba region as seen from the village kindergarten. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 23/10/14.
Haj Sami reports that, since 1971, more than fifty people have been wounded and sixteen killed during military training exercises in the area. Haj Sami is one of the victims.
“The army shot me three times; one of the bullets is still lodged next to my heart.”
As a young man he was hit during a live training exercises, paralyzed from the waist down and is wheelchair-bound for life. An advocate of nonviolent resistance the mayor is making strident efforts to retain the existing population and attract people to live in the village.
“Many people leave because it is too dangerous. But now we are trying to retain the people here. Three families have just moved here,” he says with pride. “People want to return but they are very afraid that Israel will damage their house.”
Almost all the structures in the town have outstanding demolition orders, including the medical center, the kindergarten, the houses, and the village mosque, the factory and even the roads. Many of the residents have had their homes demolished more than once.
Sara Alfaqr stands next to the ruins of their demolished house. Three of their children play on the twisted remains of their living room couch in the background. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 07/11/14.
On 6 November 2014, Defalla Abed Odi Alfaqr and his family, including 4 adults and 6 children, had their home demolished. This is the 3rd demolition this family has faced in just five months. Defalla recounts the incident:
“When I heard that a demolition was going on the other side of the village, I knew that they were coming for us next. They came with a big force and told us we could collect only our clothes and after the demolition the soldiers collected dirt and stones with the bulldozer and piled it on top.”
One the same day Defalla’s neighbor Khalid Ahmad Abdarahman Subeh, had an animal shelter demolished. We go to visit the family and learn that this family is also facing demolition for the 3rd time.
Khalid Ahmad Abdarahman Subeh and his wife Sara, describe the demolition. The rubble from the destroyed animal shelter can be see in the background. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 07/11/14.
“When the army arrived, the sheep where in the shelter, they told us to empty the shelter and then they demolished. After they cut our electricity wire.”
When asked what he would do next, Khalid replied with resignation:
“We will stay. Tomorrow when my sons come, we will build another shelter for the sheep. I have four sons, we will have it done in one day.”
Before leaving, we asked Khalid if they had a message he would like us to share about their situation he replied:
“Tell them we want to live in peace and freedom. And we want at least fifty percent of our human rights.”
Sara gathers fresh sage from her herb garden to make tea for the visiting EAs. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 07/11/14.
Both buildings were allegedly demolished because they were built without a permit in Area C. The affected families report that they applied to the Israeli Civil Administration for building permits but were denied. According to UN OCHA, 94% of applications for building permits by Palestinians living in area C are denied.
On the 11 November 2014. EAs joined locals and NGOs in a celebratory volunteer day to paint and clean the village of Al Aqaba. The initiative was conceived as a show of support for the community ahead of their high court case challenging the Israeli Civil Administration for its demolition orders on the village structures.
“We are having this day because the army damaged homes and barracks last week. We wanted to do something for Al Aqaba; to make it more beautiful. We need to paint the village to show it is an existing village. We want to show the court that people live here and care about this place. It is unfair to the people here if they demolish it.”
Local NGOs organize a day to paint in Al Aqaba in a show of solidarity. Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 11/11/14.
EA joins volunteers in painting the village of al Aqaba, Photo EAPPI/I. Tanner, 11/11/14.
Israeli occupation policies have severely restricted the ability of Palestinians in Area C to build, access water, land and resources. The cumulative impact of these policies has been the stifling of it economy, high poverty rate, dispossession and displacement.
Despite the hardships faced this mayor remains resolute in his commitment to peace and the survival of his community. Haj Sami suggests:
“We want peace but not with occupation; we need our land. The international community needs to help Israel for peace not for war; if we do this we can change the situation.”