European-Funded Structures demolished in Tawayel in the Jordan Valley

by Becky, Yanoun Team

“We condemn such a demolition and I have asked the Israeli ambassador in Brussels to meet me at my department. First of all to convey my condemnation to the ambassador, but also to request compensation for the damage caused.”

Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, 2 October 2014

In October this year, the tiny village of Tawayel in the West Bank became national news in Belgium. On 29 September, the Israeli Military destroyed a power network which provides the small shepherding community in Tawayel (Tell al Khashaba) with electricity. The network was funded by the Belgian government and implemented by the Belgian Technical Company (BTC). The deliberate Israeli military demolition of 70 electric pylons and 4.5 kilometres of cables caught on camera by the EAPPI team from Yanoun sparked outrage in Brussels.

Demolition of Belgian-funded electric pylon in Tawayel on September 29. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

Israeli authorities demolish an electric pylon in Tawayel which was funded by the Belgian government, 29 September 2014. Photo EAPPI/H. Kjøllesdal.

The destruction of the Belgian electricity network in Tawayel itself is not unique. Last week, the EAPPI team based in Yanoun arrived in Tawayel to witness the Israeli military in the process of destroying several water pipes funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). However, the strong condemnation of the demolitions expressed by the Belgian government is a positive step forward, as many demolitions go unchallenged by European funders.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

An EA, Ghassan, our driver/interpreter and a villager from Tawayel walk away from a water pipe damaged by the Israeli military on 2 November 2014. Photo EAPPI/A. Tesche.

The financial and human cost of demolitions

The European Union (EU) is amongst the largest donors in the Palestinian water and agricultural sectors. The EU and its member states help to fund water and sanitation infrastructure, electricity networks and roads in the West Bank, particularly in Area C. From 2002 to 2012, the Israeli military destroyed 82 projects with a total financial loss of €49.15 million. Since 2012, many more projects have been damaged by the Israeli military. Despite the financial cost to the European Union and its member states, few funders have objected to the demolitions or demanded compensation.

In addition to the financial losses, every demolition has a human cost for the Palestinians living in affected areas. Tawayel is a shepherding community, dependent on electricity to store their milk, cheese and yoghurt products. Although the electrical network has been partially restored, the damage to the electricity pylons could have a negative impact on the livelihood of shepherds such as Osama Beni Fadil, who has nine children to support. Living with the reality of demolition can be extremely demoralising.

“Nobody cares about us here, because we are not in Jerusalem,” Osama told EAPPI on 2 November after the demolitions of the water pipes, roads and one of his buildings.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

The daughter of shepherd Osama Beni Fadil sitting with the family flock. Villagers in Tawayel are dependent on livestock produce for their income, which requires electricity for refrigeration. Photo EAPPI/ A. Tesche.

Are the demolitions legal?

International Humanitarian Law applies to the whole of the West Bank, including villages such as Tawayel which are in Area C. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that destruction of personal property belonging to ‘public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations’ is prohibited unless ‘absolutely necessary by military operations’. The destruction of water projects violates the human right to access clean and adequate water which is enshrined in multiple international laws. The demolition of water pipes and roads in Tawayel are also illegal under Israeli law, as according to locals they had not been issued with demolition orders.

Israeli Military illegally demolish European Commission funded water pipes in Tawayel, West Bank. Video EAPPI/R. Viney-Wood.

Ongoing demolitions: Time for Europe to act

The destruction of the electrical network in Tawayel is not the first demolition of a European funded structure in the West Bank, and it is unlikely to be the last. In the case of Belgium, the electricity network is the first project they have funded to be demolished in the West Bank. Although the project had an outstanding demolition order on it from 2008 which was re-issued in March this year, the Belgian government had made the ‘utmost diplomatic efforts’ to prevent the destruction. The disregard of these efforts by the Israeli military combined with public pressure following images of the destruction in Belgian media led the government to condemn the destruction.

The Belgian Foreign Minister Reynders stated:

“We need to have an EU initiative, because this not only concerns Belgian projects, but also projects of several other countries, I believe, and definitely European Commission projects.”

Reynders added that Belgium intends to discuss the matter of compensation with other European states at the EU level. Since the Belgian condemnation of the demolitions the Israeli military have not touched the electric pylons in Tawayel, which have been partially restored. It is imperative that European funders object to Israeli military demolitions of their projects, on legal and financial grounds. It is also important for European funders to condemn the human costs of demolitions which affect every day life in villages such as Tawayel.

*Read more about the multiple demolitions Tawayel has faced in the past year.

The double standards of ‘firing zones’ in the West Bank

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.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

A typical sign placed in front of a community declaring an area a ‘firing zone’ in the Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/N. Ray.

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.

 

The remains of the house demolished on 20th August 2014 in Tawayel Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

The remains of the house demolished on 20 August 2014 in Tawayel
Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

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.

The Jordan Valley – The Strategy behind Demolitions and Displacement

Two villages were almost completely demolished.  These are only two of many villages facing demolition and a strategy of forced displacement in the Jordan Valley.

by Sarah, Yanoun team

Fadia demonstrating outside of the UNOCHA building in Ramallah. Photo EAPPI/S. Spiller.

Fadia addresses the protesters and journalists to tell her story of displacement. Photo EAPPI/S. Spiller.

Fadia is angry. Today, she came from Fasayel to Ramallah with many other villagers from the Jordan Valley to protest in front of the UNOCHA building to say. The Jordan Valley needs international attention. The Jordan Valley needs international support.

Since the failure of the peace negotiations and the decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice to include the Palestinians in the planning procedures in Area C, we have recorded an increased number of house demolitions all across the West Bank. We witnessed the ongoing harassment of two villages after they were almost completely demolished.

At-Tawayel: where to learn Sumud

140429_At-Twayel_ongoing house demolitions

Bulldozers pull down dwellings in At-Tawayel. Photo EAPPI/S. Spiller.

Sumud is the Arabic word meaning steadfastness or perseverance. The inhabitants of At-Tawayel / Tell Al-Khashaba embody Sumud.

In this village, five dwellings, a mosque and four animal shelters were demolished on the 29 April 2014. 300 troops and four bulldozers were deployed in order to leave 27 people, including 19 children under 17, without shelter. The tents the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) provided on the same day were confiscated less than 2 weeks later on the 12 May 2014, when Israeli forces destroyed the three new built houses. The PRCS provided new tents, but the Israeli Civil Administration sent some representatives on the 18 May in order to take the tents away again, as well as the concrete mixer the villagers used for the renovation of the old buildings.

The people in At-Tawayel tell us that they have lived here for generations, and collapsed stone walls show a long history in this village.

A villager tells the EAs:

“We will die here in our right” emphasizing their determination not to abandon their land.

“We breed sheep, this is our main income.” he continues, “we cannot breed sheep in Aqraba [the nearby town]; there is no land for this there. All people here want to stay.”

Another essential aspect contributing to this Sumud is the solidarity At-Tawayel experiences from the inhabitants of the region. The people in Aqraba managed to raise about 320,000 Shekel to support the village and rebuild dwellings.

Abu Al-Ajaj: will despair finally get the upper hand?

On 21 May 2014, we received an emergency call came from Al-Jiftlik Abu Al-Ajaj, where Israeli authorities demolished 36 structures, leaving 52 people, of which 28 children, homeless as well as 4000 sheep and 15 calves without shelter. Another 12 people, including 3 children, where affected.

The farmers explain to the team that they had come from Hebron to live here in the 1970s.

We are peaceful people”, they say, “we breed sheep, this is our income.” Facing the disaster, Usama, one of the displaced people exclaims: “This area is not demolished; it is an earthquake of the democratic state [of Israel]!”.

Unlike in At-Twayel, the villagers in Abu Al-Ajaj still seem under shock when the team visits them some days later. They seem not to find the energy to stand up to the violence anymore. An old man continues to ask what to do: leave or stay?

On call for UNOCHA, the EAs visit Abu Al-Ajaj on a daily basis for a week and witness great fear of further demolitions among the villagers. This fear also prevents them even to set up some improvised shelter. In May, the temperatures rise already much in the Jordan Valley, and neighbouring villages provide water tanks. Unfortunately, the water is not enough to cover also the animals’ needs; lambs and goatkids die under the burning sun and the eyes of helpless locals and internationals.

Eviction Strategy in Area C

The affected and threatened villages are all situated in Area C, which is under complete control of the Israeli authorities and covers about 60% of the West Bank. The demolitions are often justified because they affect so called “illegal constructions”, though, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli authorities rejected the vast majority of applications for building permits in Area C submitted by Palestinians: “From 2009 through 2012, a total of 1,640 applications were submitted. Only 37 – a mere 2.3% – were approved”; which means that the Palestinians living in Area C have almost no possibilities to build housing and animal shelters legally.

An emergency tent shelter provided by PRCS. Even these are being destroyed and confiscated by Israeli authorities. Photo EAPPI/S. Spiller.

An emergency tent shelter provided by PRCS. Even these are being destroyed and confiscated by Israeli authorities. Photo EAPPI/S. Spiller.

In his article published on the 20 May 2014 in the Wall Street Journal, the Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennet reveals the strategy behind this intended impediment of expansion of the Palestinian population:

Annexing Area C would limit conflict by reducing the size of the territory in dispute, which would make it easier to one day reach a long-term peace agreement.

Col. Einav Shalev, operations officer of Central Command and a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, reportedly explained how this was to be done:

Military training in live-fire zones in the West Bank is used as a way of reducing the number of Palestinians living nearby, and serves as an important part of the campaign against Palestinian illegal construction.

Thus it becomes obvious that the recorded demolitions are part of a whole strategy aiming at the eviction of the Palestinian population from Area C.

A System Working Against International Humanitarian Law

At-Twayel and Abu Al-Ajaj are only 2 examples among many communities which have faced repeated demolitions in the Jordan Valley. But Palestinians do not surrender quite easily. The farmers and shepherds of the region have decided to join forces in order to organise their peaceful resistance.

This is why Fadia and the others have come to Ramallah today. They want international attention. They want their story to be spread in the hope that this will help to prevent further displacements. They hope that international political pressure will help push the Israeli government to change its politics and to respect international law.

Article 49 of the Geneva Convention states “(…) 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.” And requires that “The Occupying Power undertaking such transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition (…).”

Fadia, Abu Sakr, Usama and the other villagers are obviously victims of abusive transfers. The “illegality” of the buildings can hardly been considered as a security threat and there is no identifiable imperative military reason for the demolitions. Further, not only the authorities fail to provide the inhabitants of the demolished buildings proper accommodation, but they even confiscate the emergency shelters provided by the Red Crescent. Fadia has quite enough reasons to be angry.