by Helga, Ar Ram team
The message arrives at 10am this morning. We are attending a Diakonia seminar on house demolitions and land grab when the lecture suddenly becomes reality.
The village under threat is Az Za’ayyem, home of 10 families from the large Jahalin Bedouin tribe. Their camp is situated in the E1 area, just outside of Jerusalem. Although the Israeli authorities frequently demolish houses & structures, this is the first encounter with house demolitions for the EAPPI team from Ar Ram.
The UNOCHA (The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) hotline tells us that the demolition is still in progress. Military bulldozers arrived at 8 am and 8 houses are in danger.
Time is of the essence, so we call our driver Firas to pick us up. Firas knows everyone in the West Bank it seems, and is a reliable source of information as well as being our team translator. On our way to Az Za’ayyem, Firas tells us this is the 2nd time in 2 years the Israeli military demolishes houses in this village. This time the demolition order states that the houses were built without a permit.
Nowhere to build
The lack of an appropriate planning and zoning system in Area C means that most Palestinians cannot obtain permits for construction or rehabilitation of homes, animal shelters, or essential infrastructure, which forces them to build illegally. The Israeli authorities routinely demolish structures, including homes, built without permits and evict families forcibly. Although the Israeli settlements surrounding the Bedouin villages are illegal according to International law, Israelis obtain permits from the Israeli building committees.
Hospitality even in crisis
At 11:30 we park our car on the outskirts of the town of Az za’ayyem where the village is situated. The bulldozers have just left the site, leaving piles of rubble and twisted aluminium sheets. We are the first internationals to arrive, and we are offered a glass of tea – demolitions have no effect on Palestinian hospitality. “Ahlan wa sahlan,” you are welcome. Firas introduces us to Mohammad El Asead M’sa, one of ten brothers whose house was demolished today.
The Israeli military tore down 8 homes, as well as several kitchen units, sanitary units and animal sheds. In total 47 people were displaced, around 20 of them children.
The village is planning a wedding this weekend. We ask Mohammad if the wedding is still going ahead. “For sure!” he answers. Because of the wedding, the Israeli authorities left two buildings standing. For now. The bulldozers are coming back for them on Sunday or one of the following days; such a nice wedding gift.
The Jahalin Bedouin, crucial to the future of a Palestinian State
These demolitions are part of Israel’s scheme for the E1 area, which aims to transfer over 2,300 Jahalin Bedouins from the area east of Jerusalem, in order develop housing for the settlement of Ma’ale Adummim. The development of this area, annexed in the 1990s for Ma’ale Adummim’s municipal boundaries, would cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and effectively separate the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part. Following the latter, it is easy to see that this development endangers the chances for a viable future Palestinian state and peace in the region.
Moreover, the relocation scheme and its ongoing implementation are a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly prohibits individual or mass forcible transfer and deportation of civilians under occupation. This conduct is considered a war crime and a possible crime against humanity.
Meanwhile, the Jahalin communities face several other obstacles such as lack of access to water, electricity, healthcare and education. According to Diakonia (2011) approximately 80% of the Jahalin are refugees and over two-thirds are children. More than half of the Bedouin communities in Area C of the West Bank are food insecure regardless of humanitarian assistance.
The abnormal becomes normal
We are still drinking our tea as some of the children come home from school. What they see startles them. They run to the far end of the rubble that used to be their homes and start rummaging through the piles.
After a while they find some of their toys and seem strangely unaffected by the events. Then again, it is not long ago since this happened before – too often the abnormal becomes normal to these children.
An Urgent Issue
The Jahalin situation calls for the international community to take resolute action – by refraining from any actions that support this development and by demanding Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law. Actions such as the EU’s recently published guidelines that refuse EU funding for entities in the Israeli settlements, are an opening to the right direction.
For the Al Za’ayyem community the situation remains more urgent. When we ask Mohammad where he will go now, he replies
“We have nowhere left to go, we will build our houses again.”