‘Where do I go now’? Questions asked in the wake of demolitions

By the Yanoun team.

March 2nd, 2016: At 6:30 in the morning, fifteen Israeli soldiers and three bulldozers entered THE VILLAGE OF KHIRBET TANA in the east of Palestine. When they left two and a half hours later, most of the village, including the internationally funded school, was left in ruins.

Two weeks earlier, Israeli authorities had carried out demolitions on the properties of six families in the village. Now they had come again, and this time they went to work on every single dwelling in Khirbet Tana.

When the EAPPI team from Yanoun tried to get into the village, they encountered an army roadblock which shut off all access to Khirbet Tana. The roadblock was set up next to a burning garbage dump. Through the smoke and the flies, it was possible to see the soldiers smiling, chatting and taking selfies while behind them, bulldozers were busy destroying a peaceful village.

02.03.16, soldiers blocking the acces to Khirbet tana. EAPPI/J. Lämås

02.03.16, Nablus, Khirbet Tana, Soldiers blocking the access to Khirbet Tana. EAPPI/J. Lämås

When the road block was eventually cleared, we EAs began by visiting families affected in order to find out the extent of the damage done to their properties. We met a 70 year old man, alone, devastated, looking at what was left of his house. He was crying when the EAs approached him. The Israeli forces had destroyed the door of the cave where he was living, his bathroom, his shelter for his animals and as if that was not enough they had also smashed the eggs that he had collected from his chickens. He looked at the EAs and said Where do I go now’? He was born there in 1945 and had nowhere else to go. When the EAs were leaving, he told them “There is no religion for these people. They [Israeli Soldiers] said to me that I looked Iraqi, so they told me to go back to Iraq.”

02.03.16, Northern West Bank, Abu Mahmoud Photo EAPPI

02.03.16, Nablus, Khirbet Tana, Abu Mahmoud in front of the ruins of his house. Photo EAPPI/J. Lamas

Not a single property in this village of tents and caves, supplemented by concrete annexes and aluminium sheeting, had been left untouched by the bulldozers. All 13 families living in Khirbet Tana had had their homes wholly or partially destroyed – in the case of one family, the Israeli forces went to work on every nook and cranny of their cave. Ruined remnants of daily life were scattered across the slopes where the village had stood. We saw shoes, teapots, playing cards…

Additionally, nearly all the animal shelters were demolished. Hundreds of sheep, chickens and donkeys are now without shelter, rendering the livelihood of the entire village extremely precarious. As we were speaking to Hamada Mahmoud Nasasra, who was struggling to salvage enough usable materials from the rubble to rebuild his tent, we could see one of his sheep drawing its last breaths in the mud. The timing of the demolition makes the loss of animal shelters particularly devastating as it is still the winter season when shelters are essential to protect the livestock.

The villages only school was destroyed, depriving 25 children of their right to education.  The school, which was built in 2011 with international funding, provided education for the children of the village. Now all that is left is a large empty space and a heap of concrete, wood and reinforcement rods.

02.03.16, Nablus, Khirbet Tana. A kid in front of his demolished school. Photo EAPPI/M. Stöpfer

02.03.16, Nablus, Khirbet Tana. A student in front of his demolished school. Photo EAPPI/M. Stöpfer

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the Israeli forces have destroyed or dismantled 323 homes and other structures across the West Bank since the beginning of 2016. This is almost equals the total number of demolitions that took place in 2015[i].

“International law is clear – Palestinians in the West Bank have the right to adequate housing and the right to receive humanitarian assistance,” said Robert Piper, Coordinator for Humanitarian and UN Development Activities for the occupied Palestinian territory. “As the occupying power, Israel is obliged to respect these rights.”[ii]

Khirbet Tana is located in an area designated by Israel as a “firing zone”. “Firing zones” cover 18 percent of the area of the West Bank. In these areas the Israeli Civil Administration can reject building permits for the residents. “Most of the demolitions in the West Bank take place on the spurious legal grounds that Palestinians do not possess building permits,” said Robert Piper, “but, in Area C, official Israeli figures indicate only 1.5 per cent of Palestinian permit applications are approved in any case. So what legal options are left for a law—abiding Palestinian?”[iii] In practice, this means that Israeli authorities can demolish homes, schools and entire villages – like Khirbet Tana – at a whim.

Footnotes:

[i] OCHA. 4 March 2016. “OCHA Flash Update: Wide-scale Demolitions in Khirbet Tana”.

[ii] UN. 17 February 2016. “Humanitarian Coordinator calls onIsrael to halt demolitions in the occupied West Bank immediately and to respect international law”. 

[iii] UN. 17 February 2016. “Humanitarian Coordinator calls onIsrael to halt demolitions in the occupied West Bank immediately and to respect international law”. 

 B’Tselem: Background on the village of Khirbet Tana

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