Demolishing homes, destroying hopes…

by EAs Veronika and Gordon, South Hebron Hills team, 

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13.01.16 South Hebron Hills, Khirbet Ar Rahwa destroyed Samamri home Photo EAPPI

It is Wednesday, 13 January 2016, 12 o’clock, lunchtime in Khirbet Ar Rahwa, about 15 km southeast Yatta (South of Hebron), only 1 km distant from Checkpoint Meitar in the south of the Green Line. The living tent and sheep shelter of the family of Raje Barhan Samamri have just been destroyed, following a “Demolition Order” from the Israeli DCO (District Coordination Office) which administers Area C on the Palestinian West Bank on behalf of the Israeli army.

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Home sweet home in firing zone 918

by the South Hebron Hills team.

It is six o’clock in the morning, and day is about to break over the valley below. In the distance, the foothills of the Negev emerge above the mist. All is quiet and peaceful in Ziad’s tiny homestead, where we have just spent the night.  Only the hollering of the jackals and the barking of a lone dog interrupted the silence of last night. Ziad arose well before daybreak to say his two morning prayers, as is his religious custom. He has worked tirelessly all morning feeding fodder and maize to his one hundred and twenty sheep.

He lives by himself in a very small simple cave and he seems satisfied with its rudimentary comfort it offers. Electricity comes from solar panels and water is collected in cisterns. A local NGO has built a toilet cubicle adjacent to the house. A few olive trees and a fig tree are planted next to the small platform where Ziad sits when he rests for a moment. A small paradise on earth, one may think and yet a closer look at life in this area reveals that it is far from ideal…

13-10-15 South Hebron Hills Bir al Idd Breakfast after overnight protective presence Abu Tariq EAPPI BG. Saltnes

13.10.15 South Hebron Hills, Bir al Idd, Abu Tariq and EA share breakfast after overnight protective presence Photo EAPPI BG. Saltnes

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Harassment in the Hebron Hills

by South Hebron Hills Team.

Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control since the Oslo Accords of 1993, is dotted with Bedouin villages. Many of the Bedouin currently living in Palestine fled there in 1948 from their ancestral lands in the Negev Desert as the newly-founded State of Israel pushed its way into the Negev. The Bedouin purchased land from the local people and initially were able to continue their simple farming – growing crops and shepherding.

Since 1967 when Israel began to occupy the West Bank, Area C has also become dotted with Israeli settlements, the building of which is illegal under Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a convention ratified by the State of Israel.

30.07.15 . South Hebron Hills, Um al Kher next to Karmel settlement. Photo EAPPI / S. Lise Bedringaas

30.07.15 . South Hebron Hills, Um al Kher next to Karmel settlement. Photo EAPPI / S. Lise Bedringaas

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Video: ‘The Struggle to Save Susiya’

This video looks back on the summer months and gives a brief insight into ‘the struggle to save Susiya‘. It features interviews with Nasser Nawaja, a local peace activist and resident of Susiya.

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Susiya: ‘another day of seeking and working for a just peace’

by EA Rev. D. Etherington​, Susiya

Just 14 months ago, I said my goodbyes to the residents of Susiya.  And now I have returned to this village in the South Hebron Hills as it faces threats of imminent demolition and a forced removal of all those living here. I have returned to Susiya at the invitation of the World Council of Churches to be part of a team of internationals providing ecumenical accompaniment and protective presence to the village in hopes that a demolition and removal may be put off.

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, photo EAPPI by L. Magne Helgesen

02.07.15 Susiya. Abu Jihad with his grandchildren, July 2015, Photo EAPPI / L. Magne Helgesen

My arrival in Susiya coincided with the first day of Ramadan, the most holy time in the Muslim year, a time of fasting for the month. This month of fasting begins with the daily call to prayer in the pre-dawn hours and ends at the sunset call to prayer. This period of Ramadan will end July 18 and is a time of reflection and reformation of the soul.

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It’s all about land

by the South Hebron Hills Team

We recently went on an excursion into the countryside with Nasser Nawaja a local contact and resident of Susiya. Nasser is a field researcher in the South Hebron Hills for B’Tselem an Israeli-Palestinian human rights organisation. Through his work he knows the fragmented pastures around Yatta like the back of his hand. While touring with Nasser he pointed out a number of restricted “security zones” around the settlements and explained how the grazing land is divided up between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The first thought that struck me, while he spoke, was that there really should be no “division” as such, nor any dispute over who goes where; the UN has after all officially recognized Palestine as a country.

Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore

Hilltop showing patches of land which have different access rules for Palestinians and Israelis. South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore 2015

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 lands have been expropriated from their Palestinian owners under a variety of pretexts in order to allow the building of settlements. There are approximately 150 settlements in occupied Palestine. Significantly these settlements have large ‘buffer zones’ around them which Palestinians are denied access to.

“The fenced or patrolled areas of settlements cover three percent of the West Bank; in total 43% of the West Bank is allocated to settlement local and regional councils.” UNOCHA 2012

Compulsory purchase orders have been enacted which have taken advantage of legal frameworks dating from the times of the Ottoman Empire.  According to Ottoman law all land belongs to the State unless someone can specifically prove ownership in writing; further clauses have allowed the confiscation of land that has not been used or cultivated for three years. These laws tend to work against Palestinians living on the “seam zones and security areas”, where they are often denied permission to cultivate the land. Additionally when a dispute arises over the ownership of a particular tract of land, any use of the land is prohibited. This results in further loss of land and livelihoods for local herding communities.

“You see that brown patch of land down there in the valley?” said Nasser, pointing into the distance. “That and the green corridors extending away from it in both directions is an area closed to everyone. The same goes for the lush grassy area heading up from one of the corridors towards the outpost on the hill. On the other hand… the stretch of land from the look-out post down towards the road is off-limits to the settlers.” Nasser 2015

While Nasser spoke I tried in ernest to take the new information on board and to discern the logic of it all, if only so that I might remember the status quo in different strips of land on different hilltops. In the end I gave up realising it was a fruitless task and concluded “there was no logic”.

Nasser Nawaja and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Nasser and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Soon after a patrol car appeared behind us and some Israeli soldiers beckoned us over. By coincidence, at that precise moment Nasser spotted a few goats belonging to the nearby settlement, grazing in an area that was off-limits to all parties. He pointed them out to the soldiers and asked why the goats were not being driven away from the prohibited area like Palestinian shepherds often were. The soldiers had no answer to this and they got back into their personnel carrier and drove away.

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

I burst out laughing but then I felt ashamed. The situations one encounters in this bizarre patchwork quilt of hills and valleys would be comical – if it were not so tragic for so many. Each and every ‘re-zoned’ strip of dirt is somebody’s lost land.

Here we go on frequent visits to vulnerable communities living in Area C to give our support to families whose homes have been bulldozed or who are awaiting demolition. Many have received demolition orders because their homes have been deemed too close to either an Israeli settlement, a military firing range or an archaeological site. Access to land in area Area C, where the Israeli government has full control, is severely restricted. In fact, less than 1% of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development and construction is heavily restricted in 29% of Area C. UNOCHA 2013

Just a few days ago, our team rolled up our sleeves and joined the locals who were working to clear the demolition rubble away from the foundations of a house that had been leveled. The Israeli military carried out the demolition of a dozen homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Khair in October 2014. Umm al-Khair is bordered by the Israeli settlement of Karmel.

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

This particular family does not intend to leave and share their hopes and plans for rebuilding. They tell us that they will not build on the site where their previous home stood since the early 1960s, but right next to it. Many victims of demolition do this in the hope that the time it takes for a new building application to go through the courts will buy them some time in their new home. The temporary emergency shelters which the families now live in have been funded by both the European Union and the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and although this international support is greatly appreciated the residents say that they expect that these shelters will also be demolished before long. This is rural life in Area C in Palestine.

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Approximately 99% of all Palestinian planning permission applications are rejected. Significantly, while old Palestinian houses are being demolished on regular basis, settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law, are being expanded at a steadily increasing pace. In some cases entire villages are under threat of demolition. The one that is probably closest to the heart of us EAs in the South Hebron Hills is the small community of Susiya, which has recently been featured in the pages of Israeli and Palestinian and international newspapers.

Susiya: a community at the heart of the struggle

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Some 550 people live in the village of Susiya. Their main source of income comes from farming and animal husbandry. From the outside, the village might look like a ramshackle tangle of tents and shacks, but it has a soul and a school and a whole lot of children. Village community life flourishes.

The village of Susiya was here at its original location from the early decades of the 19th century. In 1986, the Israeli Civil Administration declared the village land was an archaeological site and the residents were expelled and the land was confiscated. Since then the village’s history has been one long chapter of nonviolent struggles against demolition orders. Just some weeks ago, the Civil Administration announced it had quashed the last legal obstacles to the complete destruction of the village. “Complete” in this case would not just include their makeshift homes but livestock barns, water tanks, solar panels – everything in the village.

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Things are rather different at the neighbouring Susiya settlement, built on village land from 1983 onwards. Life in the Israeli settlement carries on without any threats of the demolition.  The story of Susiya is one of many in the South Hebron Hills region, where too many people live from day to day never knowing when the next expulsion will come.

On the 10th of May the Civil Administration began ‘mapping’ Susiya – residents fear imminent demolition. Click here to learn more.

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Sign and spread the Avaaz Petition started by Susiya resident Nasser Nawajeh, Save My Village!

You can help their cause by sharing their story and spreading B’Tselem’s appeal through social media using #SaveSusiya.

 

Our Top 10 Posts from 2014

Happy New Year to all! We want to say thank you to all you follow our blog and read our posts. It’s you who help us get the word out about the injustices happening in Palestine and Israel.

The year 2014 was a difficult year with the assault on Gaza, the kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens, the closures & raids that occurred across the West Bank in the search for the teens. It was also a 6 year high for displacement from demolitions and human rights violations continued throughout the West Bank.  Here we shed light on the injustices that occurred and the faces of hope & perseverance through it all in 10 most viewed posts from 2014.

10. Final destination

photo of Selim Auda Jahaleen

Selim Auda Jahaleen is 107 years old. A Palestinian Bedouin, he is the oldest member of the Jahaleen tribe. Photo EAPPI/BG. Saltnes.

Israeli authorities announced plans, Nuwei’ma plans, to forcibly transfer over 7,000 Bedouin from the Jerusalem periphery/E1 area and Jordan Valley. Bedouin who have already become refugees twice, face imminent displacement again and the loss of their traditional way of life. Demolitions of homes and property are the immediate result of these plans and affect families such as Selim’s.

9. Responding to tragedy with smiles and sweet tea

The Daraghmi family after their home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

The Daraghmi family after their home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

Demolitions are a common occurrence in the Jordan Valley. Some homes & villages have been demolished many times. In January 2014, EAs went to the home of Nimer Hassan Hussein Daraghmi in Al Farisiya only 3 hours after his home was demolished. They found that in the face of tragedy & disaster, this family showed remarkable hospitality.

8. Humanitarian Situation Deteriorates at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300

Checkpoint 300. Photo EAPPI/S. Amrad.

Checkpoint 300. Photo EAPPI/S. Amrad.

Between 4,000 to 6,000 Palestinian workers cross the Bethlehem Checkpoint everyday on their way to work inside Israel. The overcrowding at this checkpoint is dangerous and raises serious humanitarian concerns. In May 2014, the situation deteriorated severely. Check out the fact sheet we created about it.  Although it’s from May 2014, it is not far off from the everyday reality of Checkpoint 300 and is still relevant today.

7. Archaeological excavations in Tel Rumeida in Hebron expand and destroy more Palestinian land

Ferial Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

Ferial Abu Haikal discusses with Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/W. Bischler.

In February 2014, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) significantly expanded excavations in Tel Rumeida in Hebron. We gave an update in June 2014 and showed how individual Palestinian families and their land are being affected. Excavations continue today.

6. Palestinian Christians find hope in Pope Francis’ visit

C. Holtan Pope Francis by the Wall in Bethlehem 250514

Pope Francis visited the Holy Land in May 2014.  With his stop at the Separation Wall he did not just leave an iconic photo for the media, but also gave a feeling of hope for Palestinian Christians that worldwide Christians recognized the injustices in the Holy Land.

5. The tribulations of Khaled Al Najar

EAs inspect the damage to Khaled's wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

EAs inspect the damage to Khaled’s wheat harvest. Photo EAPPI/H. Tyssen.

Khaled Al Najar from the South Hebron Hills has faced numerous trials and tribulations over the years due to the Israeli occupation and settler violence.  From burned crops and livelihood to being shot in his stomach to long drawn out court cases, an EA captured his heart wrenching story.

4. “I teach all the children at the school to keep their dignity.” ~Samia, Teacher, Cordoba School

T.FJeldmann_TeacherSamiaAlJaberi_CP56_Hebron010914_2

As part of our 2014 Back to School series, we interviewed students & teachers about their challenges of going to school under military occupation and also their hopes & dreams that persist despite these obstacles.  Samia, a teacher in Hebron, shared some inspiring words.

3.Access to water in the Jordan Valley

Abu Dirra shows us the old larger Palestinian water pipe in Bardala which was severed.  Israeli authorities joined the smaller water pipe, allowing a smaller amount of water to be pumped to the village. Photo EAPPI/B. Saltnes.

Abu Dirra shows us the old larger Palestinian water pipe in Bardala which was severed. Israeli authorities joined the smaller water pipe, allowing a smaller amount of water to be pumped to the village. Photo EAPPI/B. Saltnes.

In 2014, we started a new placement in the Jordan Valley.  Our first team of EAs there took on the big task of raising awareness and advocating for issues in this contentious valley. In this article, they shed light on the injustices of water distribution. Although water is an issue all over Palestine, inequality is the worst in the Dead Sea area of the Jordan Valley, where Israeli settlers receive 10 times more water than West Bank Palestinians.

2. Houses, oranges, checkpoints, guns – kids draw life in Palestine

Sadee's drawing

When I saw Sadee’s drawing I asked her if the person inside the house was holding a plate of food. She told me that it wasn’t a house, it was a checkpoint, and that the person was a soldier holding a gun. Photo EAPPI/E. Kulta.

Art is a powerful tool for self expression.  Two EAs asked kids in Azzun Atma to draw their life in Palestine. What they got were powerful reflections from 7 and 8 year olds of living and going to school under military occupation.

1. The Tent of Nations – a nonviolent conviction to resist injustice and build hope for peace

Esther Goebel - Daher Nassar - Tent of Nations - Nassar on his farm, Jewish settlements in the background

The Tent of Nations, located just outside, faces constant threat of harrassment land confiscation from Israeli authorities and Israeli settlers. Yet, Daher Nassar refuses to give and is an inspiring example of peace and nonviolence. We wrote this article about him in February before 800 of the family’s trees were uprooted in May. This calamity did not deter him, however, and he continues to plant trees as a sign of hope.