Photography by Gabriel R.
December 5, 2013
On Monday, 2 December, Israeli bulldozers accompanied by military vehicles knocked down four houses and numerous tents and livestock barracks, leaving at least 30 Palestinians homeless and causing the deaths of more than a dozen lambs, local residents of al-Auja told the Palestine Monitor during a visit on Wednesday afternoon. Four displaced families now sleep in temporary tents a few meters from large piles of broken concrete and twisted metal that were family homes a week ago. On Tuesday, several other structures, including water wells and tents, were demolished at other locations across the Jordan Valley.
Ahmed Jihaleen is one of the residents made homeless by the latest demolitions in al-Auja. A young man with a weathered face and two young daughters, he explained that the family built their house seven years ago with funds raised from selling his wife’s gold jewelry. He showed me the small lacerations around his wrists where he had been cuffed and detained by Israeli soldiers for protesting the destruction and attempting to the clear out the last of the family’s belongings. A month ago, the Israeli army warned locals of pending demolition orders, and without further notice, arrived in the early hours of Monday morning.
Al-Auja is a small town just north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley in the Palestinian West Bank, which has been under illegal Israeli occupation since 1967. On the edge of the village is a small Bedouin community, made up of several families originally from the Negev Desert, displaced first to the foothills near al-Auja in 1948 when Israel was created, then displaced again to the edge of the village ten years ago. Now homeless for a third time, the families are unsure where they will end up, as Israel increasingly enforces its ban on (Palestinian) building across the Jordan Valley.
The region falls mostly within Area C, the portion of the West Bank designated under full Israeli control by the Oslo Accords in 1995. While Area C constitutes the majority of land in the West Bank, it hosts the least populated Palestinian areas and the majority of Israeli settlements. Most of Israel’s military bases and operations in the occupied territories are also in Area C. Palestinians are forbidden to build, and thousands of structures exist under standing demolition orders. Homes and other buildings are regularly destroyed. In September, for example, an entire community was flattened
, and demolitions are continuing up and down the valley this week
with the destruction of sheds and water wells. According to Al-Auja locals, the army said they would return to the village in the coming days to take down fourteen more agricultural structures.
Close to Ahmed’s former home, a larger pile of rubble signifies the remains of Abu Musa’s house, strewn with broken doors, a crushed satellite dish, and barefooted children. An old man, Abu Musa says his true home, the home in his heart, will always be in the Negev, though he has not seen it since his childhood. Today, he has little hope for his family of eight, now in makeshift tents in the shadow of his wrecked house. "It’s in God’s hands," is all he can predict against the might of the Israeli army and an apathetic international community. When asked how the youngest in his household responded to the destruction, he said they were crying and vowing vengeance.
A little further on, Musa Najadi shows us the remains of four livestock barracks, also destroyed on Monday morning. According to Musa, 13 baby sheep could not be evacuated from the first structure before it was crushed, and several other livestock were wounded in the destruction, some critically. One of his sons was cuffed and detained for trying to get between the animals and the bulldozers.
The recent demolitions mark a gradual escalation in Israeli policies that are clearing away Area C for continued Jewish-only settlement expansion, all under the cover of a nine-month negotiating process that no one seems to believe in, including the negotiating parties, except perhaps the sanguine U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Palestinians of the Jordan Valley are not alone in this experience. Demolitions and displacements are increasingly common across the West Bank, from the remote South Hebron Hills to the densely populated neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. According to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs and independent human rights organizations, hundreds of homes are demolished each year, displacing thousands of Palestinians, almost half of them children. According to Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, 583 housing units in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank have been demolished since 2010, with more demolished in the first nine months of this year than any of the preceding three years. And among an already vulnerable population, the Bedouin of Palestine, impoverished and out of sight, are the most vulnerable.
The threat to Bedouin Palestinians is not limited to the occupied territories, however. Last week, thousands protested
in outrage across Israel, the Palestinian territories and around the world at the insistence of the Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to push forward with the controversial Prawer Plan, which aims to forcibly relocate between 40,000 and 70,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel who live in the Negev Desert but do not comport with the state’s Jewish self image.
Until Israel’s allies and the rest of the international community step up the pressure, these episodes of ethnic cleansing, small and large, will continue to undermine the chances of a just and peaceful solution to this decades-old conflict.