by the Jordan Valley team
Nai’me shows us the water pool her family has built with the aid from a local organisation. She explains to us how this pool has enabled her family to harvest rainwater and use it to irrigate their farms. She smiles shyly and adds:
“Our produce has increased so much that we now can afford to send our eldest daughter to university in Jericho” Nai’me 2015
Nai’me and her family live in a small village north of Jericho, situated in Area C. In Area C, Israeli authorities control everything pertaining to building and development. If you want to build a house, drill a well or pave a road, you need a permit; something that Nai’me and her family do not have. In fact, they did not even try to ask for one, since Israeli authorities are not in the habit of granting permits to Palestinians. Nai’me and her family decided to build anyway as a way of resisting the occupation.
Between 2000 and 2007, 94% of all Palestinian applications for building permits were denied, according to UN OCHA.
In the Jordan Valley Israel’s military occupation is characterised by bureaucratic and physical restrictions for Palestinians. Nai’me and her family are not the only ones whose buildings are deemed illegal. While she and her family lack permission from the Israeli authorities, the Israeli settlements are expanding, in violation of International Humanitarian Law.
Settlements are heavily subsidised by the Israeli authorities and land is allocated to them through a complex and overlapping system of zoning.
The zoning of the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B and C determine which authority, Palestinian or Israeli, is responsible for the inhabitants. Area C is divided into several sub-categories which have severely hindered the natural growth and development of Palestinian towns and cities. In the Jordan Valley for example the Israeli authorities have re-zoned most of the land as either state land, closed firing zones or nature reserve.
Significantly, while only 6% of the Jordan Valley is available for Palestinian development a total of 86 % falls under the jurisdiction of the municipal and regional councils of the settlements. This facilitates the development of settlements well beyond the 12 % of land they cultivate today.
A success story: against all odds? Nai’me knows they run the risk of having their water pool demolished by Israeli authorities. If this happens, her husband might have to go back to working in the settlement farm bordering their village. But Nai’me hopes that they will get to keep their water pool for a couple of years and that her eldest daughter will have time to finish her degree.
Learn more about this issues from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions ICHAD
by Jordan Valley team
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
by Nikki, Yanoun Team
“Why is it a military zone for Palestinians only?” exclaims Ayman Banifadl, Mayor of Aqraba.
He is referring to the ‘closed military zones’ or ‘firing zones’ which the Israeli authorities have assigned to 30% of Area C in the West Bank. These areas are meant to be used for military training exercises and usually have signs prohibiting all access, even though often signs are placed directly in front of already existing Palestinian communities. However, the Yanoun team has recently sighted Israeli settlers alongside the Israeli army during a military training exercise within a ‘firing zone’, indicating the ongoing collaboration occurring between the Israeli army and settlers. This incident also highlights the double standards which are exercised by the Israeli army in relation to who is allowed within these closed military areas.
Communities living in areas of the West Bank now considered a ‘firing zone’ by the Israeli authorities face huge threats to their existence. These threats include demolition, displacement, and limited ability to realize their rights to water, adequate shelter, education, health, and livelihood. Many communities have demolition orders on their structures and frequently Israeli authorities demolish houses & structures.
Nearby to the large village of Aqraba is Tawayel (or, Tell al Khashaba), a small Palestinian herding community located within Area C and within a ‘firing zone’. The very existence of Tawayel has been threatened by the demolition of multiple houses and structures, including the community’s mosque on 29 April 2014. According to Ayman, “in 1976 the Israelis said that all the land from Aqraba [eastwards] to Jordan is a firing zone.” This announcement came despite multiple Palestinian communities living within this area. The reason for declaring the area a ‘firing zone’ seems clear to Ayman: establishment of Israeli settlements. He describes how the settlement of Gittit, to the east of Tawayel, was established. The area was first declared a ‘closed military zone’ and a small army camp was established. A mere 2 years later the camp was disbanded and the land was handed to Israeli settlers who built the Gittit settlement.
“It is clear that these lands are used for economic reasons, not military ones,” Ayman tells us.
10 Israeli settlement outposts have been established and allowed to expand within these ‘firing zones’ in Area C, even though they are illegal under international and Israeli law. Whilst Palestinian communities present before the areas were designated ‘firing zones’, face frequent demolitions and are prevented from building to expand or repair their communities.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the “Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand”. The Israeli army uses the area around Tawayel for military exercises on average once a month. As Ayman stresses, however, “there has been no war in this area since 1967.” The existence of these communities cannot be constituted as an ‘imperative military reason’.
In the case of Tawayel, there are no plans for forced transfer of the community. Instead, the people of Tawayel are being slowly pushed off their land under the auspices of a ‘firing zone’ without anywhere else to go. Ayman believes that the Israeli authority’s policy is to ensure that all remote Palestinian communities are displaced to towns.
If it was not already evident that a ‘firing zone’ only applies to Palestinians and not Israeli settlers, it became clear on 10 September 2014. The EAPPI team in Yanoun was called to Tawayel at 12:30 pm due to sightings of Israeli soldiers near to the village. When we arrived we found a group of 10 soldiers fully armed sitting under a tree sheltering from the midday sun, 100 meters from houses in Tawayel. We stayed in Tawayel to monitor the soldiers’ movements. At 1:30 pm, 3 Israeli army jeeps were sighted at the eastern end of the valley driving towards Tawayel. They had come to drop off more soldiers underneath the trees ready for, what it appeared to be, a training operation on foot.
Following close behind the 3 military jeeps was a civilian jeep. Basem Dili, the Head of Tawayel, identified the driver of the civilian jeep as a settler by the name of Koby. He explains that Koby lives in the settlement of Itamar, near to Yanoun. According to Basem, Koby was the settler who had been in charge of confiscating land around Yanoun to build settlement outposts to expand Itamar. Koby paused to have a conversation with the 2 military jeeps which were stopped by the trees before he continued along the valley. Afterwards the military jeeps returned in the direction they had come from. What was occurring before our eyes was confirmation of the close, collaborative relationship existing between the Israeli army and Israeli settlers.
“No one is making a demolition order for the settlers; [instead] they are building a road for him,” said the Mayor of Aqraba at the most recent house demolition in Tawayel on 20 August 2014, which left 17 people homeless.
‘Firing zones’ in this area are being utilized for settlement expansion towards the Jordan Valley. Like the village of Yanoun, the disappearance of Tawayel would bring the expansion of illegal settlements across the breadth of the West Bank one step closer. It would enable the connection of Itamar to the Jordan Valley settlements. But the people of Tawayel continue to stay strong and remain on their land amidst military training exercises and house demolitions. They have no other choice but to stay, where else would they graze their livestock and earn a living?
*On the morning this article was published, 29 September 2014, Israeli authorities arrived in Tawayel and demolished all the community’s electricity poles.
On March 25, 20 families, consisting of approximately 125 people, most of who are children, were forcefully evacuated from their homes due to Israeli military training in the area. The families moved only 200-300 meters away from their homes and were forced to stay outside without shelter until around 12:00AM. This was the second time this month that the families had to evacuate their homes for military training, and they have been ordered to evacuate on 02-03.04.14 as well. During the military exercises, soldiers drove tanks over fields of crops, causing extensive agricultural damage.