Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Another day, another demolition

A child wanders amidst the rubble of his home in Hammamat Al Maleh

 This time it was worse than before. So many demolitions and so many aggressive solidiers. Where is the Palestinian State?”

Hammamat Al Maleh resident
On Thursday 17th January 2013 between 200 and 300 soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force entered the Palestinian villages of Hammamat al Maleh  and Hammamat Al Matieh (known as a collective by the former title), in the Jordan Valley, and bulldozed the homes of 10 families, demolishing all standing structures including the tents that provided housing for upwards of 80 people, the cisterns that stored their water and the shelters and enclosures that housed their cattle. In the melee one elderly lady, Adira Hussein, fell and broke her arm, and was not able to access professional medical attention until the next day. On Saturday 19th January the IDF returned to the area to dismantle and remove the tents provided to the community by the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide temporary shelter. 

What are the tents doing to Israeli Security? Where are the children going to sleep tonight?”
Hammamat Al Maleh Resident

One IDF officer told the mostly Bedouin locals that anyone attempting to put up more shelters would be arrested and their sheep, which are a valuable asset and for most residents the key to their livelihoods, confiscated. One villager estimated that he had already lost 60,000 Shekels worth of property and if his sheep were confiscated, he would in effect lose a further 400,000 NIS (over 67,000 British Pounds), a crippling blow.

Tayasir and Hamra checkpoints, which allow access to the area from other parts of the West Bank, were regularly blocked over the course of the weekend by IDF troops, preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid from the Palestinian Authority and supportive Palestinians in Israel. One shipment of goods did make it through this blockade on Sunday 20th January, as did some reporters and representatives from the Red Cross and International Solidarity Movement, as well as the EAPPI Yanoun team. To date however, no further shelters have been allowed entry so the families are dispersed in neighboring areas relying on the charity of friends and family.

A villager works to assemble Red Cross shelters before their confiscation. (Heli Pekkkonen/EAPPI)
A further 10 families, who inhabit some of the tents left standing when the bulldozers finished their work, were served with Demolition Orders with deadlines in February (10 families), March (4 families) and April (11 families). This means that anytime after the dates specified, the same fate could befall their homes and property as their neighbours’ had suffered this time around.

The Hammamat al Maleh and -al Meiteh communities are situated in the North of the Jordan Valley (area C), in an area designated as a closed military zone. The community is located very close to Tayasir military camp, which was relocated after the Yom Kippur war of 1973 from the Sinai desert to the Jordan Valley. The plight of this community is unfortunately, far from an exception in the Jordan Valley. Taking up just 28.6% of the West Bank and yet home to only around 81,000 people, with around a third of that number concentrated in the south in and around the city of Jericho, the area is also the richest and most fertile for agriculture. 80% of it is in Area C, under full Israeli military control.

In total, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem) estimates that Israel controls 77.5% of lands and resources, crucially water, in the Jordan Valley, closing them off to Palestinians. The measures employed to facilitate this control include declaring large swaths of land as state land, military firing zones, nature reserves or, as in Hammamat Al Maleh, closed military zones. These measures have led Bt’seleem to describe the Israeli policy in the Jordan Valley as one of ‘de facto annexation’. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 300,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley prior to 1967, and this population has been in steady decline under the Israeli occupation.

A total of 37 Israeli settlements and outpost pepper the Jordan Valley, with their total size, taking into account their official municipal boundaries, taking up 12% of the land, and are home to around 9.400 settlers, who have moved into the area since 1967. Factoring in the closed military zones often imposed around them, and their massive consumption of water supplies, their footprint in the land is very large.

These settlements, (despite being in land that Israel maintains military control over for declared security purposes) are used for residential, agricultural and industrial purposes and are economically lucrative for their residents and the Israeli economy as a whole. The transfer of a resident population out or an occupying population into an occupied territory is illegal under Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. and a substantial evidence base indicates that Israel has systematically facilitated population transfer in the Jordan Valley.

All of this is a war crime…We need your voice to the outside world.”
Hammamat al Maleh Resident

Our team has visited Hammamet Al Maleh and Al Matieh a number of times over the past two months, during which we have learnt of their situation. In late 2012 the whole community had been temporarily evacuated 3 times. In the new year between the 1st and 3rd of January the IDF held one of the biggest military trainings in their history in the Jordan Valley.

Women and children sift through the rubble
 The people of Hammamat Al Maleh were amongst the 1000+ people evacuated from their villages during this period. On that occasion they were given no alternative shelter or accommodation and were allowed to return after 48 hours. During this period the Israeli ‘Civil Administration’ (actually an extension of the military) served demolition orders on a number of ‘illegal’ homes, including those destroyed this past weekend.  From what we have witnessed and heard, the people of Hammamat Al Maleh have a bleak immediate future.

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