Grandma moves house

After their home has been demolished 5 times, a family in Khirbet Yarza decides to move and leave the location they’ve lived in for generations.

by Ken, Yanoun team

We must look a strange sight to the locals, travelling along the precipitous mountain tracks on our way to rescue those in need, in our canary-yellow coloured “German donkey” (VW Caravelle taxi) … like something out of a Monty Python sketch or a spoof spaghetti western.

But there’s nothing funny about the situation that we find in Khirbet Yarza.  Masadi’s sitting in the wreckage of what was her home until a couple of hours ago, before the 50 soldiers arrived and bulldozed everything flat. Once would be bad enough but this is the fifth time that this has happened to them!

In my entire life I’ve never seen anyone so distraught; grief is etched into her features but she can’t cry, she can’t even speak to us, and I realize that she’s suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome. She gestures helplessly with her hands at the catastrophe around her and then retreats to a make-shift kitchen area she’s cleared from the rubble.

Sixteen persons, including 12 children, living in this extended family were made homeless. Fayas, the husband, explains that his family have lived as shepherds in this area for generations and have land title deeds going back to Ottoman times. It doesn’t matter: they’ve been punished for the cardinal sin of erecting a structure without a building permit. They thought the demolition order served on them had been suspended pending their legal challenge: they were obviously wrong.

The family is in a desperate ‘Catch 22’ situation as a building permit is next to impossible to obtain by a Palestinian and certainly not on land declared by the army to be a closed military zone.

What will they do now?

“What can we do but start again?” says Faisal stoically and starts constructing a wind- and waterproof shelter from borrowed materials.

Masadi scoops up some of the ruined food and animal fodder with her hands and shows it to us: “I don’t understand why this has been done to us. Why don’t they just kill us instead of destroying our lives?”

We call the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and soon humanitarian aid begins to arrive. Before going I say to Masadi “Allah yusalmik” [God protect you]. She nods resignedly in acknowledgement but I can’t help thinking that she wonders why God appears to have abandoned her.

Three weeks later it’s a case of déjà vu. We’re back in Khirbet Yarza. At 06.00 am roughly 40 soldiers arrived without warning and demolished everything again.  The family was not given time to remove the calf from one of the animal shelters; of course it died. Masadi sits forlornly amidst the rubble, contemplating the family’s future:

“This is not a life. Everyone is forced away from Palestine. Soon there will be no Palestinians left. What can we do now?”

Faisal has the answer: move. The Israeli army has finally won. Faisal’s had enough, the last straw being the confiscation of his tractor for having the temerity to disobey the army’s previous instruction to vacate the site.

Two of my colleagues sit patiently with Masadi, holding her hands and speaking softly to her in English, Arabic and Swedish to comfort her, like the two daughters that she may never have had. Meanwhile I and another EA help Fayas salvage what we can from the debris and load it onto a tractor and trailer to be taken to the family’s new home, a single-roomed stone structure further along the ridge.


It takes five trips to complete the move. Meanwhile the girls remain with Masadi at her new home but soon other women begin to arrive. Things are starting to look up but it’s cuddling her grandson that finally puts a smile back on Masadi’s face.  Everyone pitches in to make the new home habitable. I sweep out the room, someone else mops the floor, others bring in the meagre items of furniture, while Faisal and sons rig up the solar power installation.

We all help to rebuild the dry stone walled enclosure for the sheep and goats. Throughout all this a tired old donkey looks on; maybe he’s seen it all before. At last we’re finished. The Ritz it certainly isn’t, but at least it’s a roof over their heads. More importantly it’s a place out of the way of the threat of demolition. Inshallah! (God willing!)

What is E1 and why are the bedouin facing displacement in the Jerusalem periphery?

We’ve written a lot about the E1 area in Jerusalem in the past week, (here and here) and even last fall (here).

Bedouin homes with canvas roofs lie in the foreground, while in the distance red tiled settlement houses lie in neat tiers. Unpaved dirt roads serve the Bedouin communities of the Jerusalem periphery as the Israeli authorities refuse to recognise their camps and provide them with necessary infrastructure and services. However, the surrounding settlements, recognised as illegal under international law by the international community, enjoy developed infrastructure, access to medical, electricity and water services, paved roads and funded schooling. The juxtaposition is quite stark. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

An Israeli settlement overlooks the Az Za’ayyem bedouin village in the Jerusalem periphery. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

What is the E1 area?

E1, or “East 1” is a plan, formed in the early 1990s, to build a new Israeli neighborhood near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Construction of E1 would cut off the narrow land corridor east of Jerusalem, which offers a connection between the northern and southern West Bank. If E1 were to be implemented, it would prove to cut the West Bank into two parts ending the possibility for a contiguous Palestinian state and sever access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians in the West Bank. As a result, construction of E1 would jeopardize the hopes of a two-state solution.

Although the E1 plan has not been implemented, the issue again came to the forefront at the end of 2012. Following the UN vote to grant Palestine observer status, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his intention to go ahead with the E1 plan.

The prospect of E1 and the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement have severe humanitarian implications to the 2,300 bedouin living in the area, who face demolition, displacement, and the inability to access basic resources.

Need more information? Here’s our roundup of the best resources on E1 and the humanitarian situation of the bedouin in the Jerusalem periphery:

PHOTOS: Settlement expansion leaves whole communities homeless and threatens their way of life

by Jenn, Jayyus team

Cranes dot the skyline of an East Jerusalem that is growing. It is growing upwards and it is growing outwards. For some. For others, their boundaries are set, and they are shrinking. It is a simple formula, settlement expansion for the Israeli population is equal to demolitions and displacement of the Palestinian population. In no place is this formula more stark than in the E1 one area and the space surrounding the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim located in the Jerusalem periphery.

The E1 area is located  North-East of Jerusalem and to the west of Ma’ale Adumim. Ma’ale Adumim is the third largest settlement in the West Bank and is home to almost 40,000 Israeli settlers. There are currently about 27,000 Bedouin refugees in the Jerusalem Area. 3,000 of which live in the Ma’ale Adumim area and 1,700 of these which lie in the E1 area. The expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and the plan for future Israeli construction in E1 threatens existing populations in the surrounding areas, but none more so than the Jahalin Bedouin community.

The year 2013, saw the rise of a new trend: that of demolishing whole communities and thus, displacing all their inhabits.  Last year, four whole communities were entirely demolished: Bir Nabala/Tel al Adassa, Az Za’ayyem, Makhul, and Ein Ayoub.  In total, 189 people were left without access to land.

This photo essay will focus on the Jahalin of Az Za’ayyem. Az Za’ayyem is home to ten Jahalin Bedouin families and is located in the E1 area.  In September of 2013, 8 homes in Az Za’ayyem were demolished as well as several kitchen units, sanitary units and animal shelters. 47 people were displaced, 20 of whom were children. Now, 4 months later, the town has yet to rebuild. Heaps of rubble, that were once homes, are piled around the wooden and sheet metal structures that are now the remaining homes of the Jahalin of Az Za’ayyem.

Unfortunately, whole communities facing displacement, demolitions and forced evictions is not a unique situation in Palestine. But in this case the very way of life of the Jahalin is threatened. Semi-Nomadic  herders, the Bedouin require open spaces and adequate pasture land for their flocks to flourish. The Jahalin are a people that value freedom and movement.  As it stands many have been forced to sell their animals and resort to work in nearby settlements in order to feed their families and maintain a living. Any suggested compensation for the displacement by the Israeli authorities, amounting to a small patch of land and minimal infrastructure in the Jericho region, is nothing more than an affront to their way of life.

“We must always remember that settlement expansion is a problem, but not just in itself, but  because expansion comes at the expense of the people, the families and entire communities that are displaced or made homeless.” ~Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, Israeli human rights activist

In the case of the Jahalin and other Bedouin communities, continued expansion of Israeli settlements not only leave them homeless, but also threatens their livelihood and their very way of life.