Bedouin Child Starts School, but Loses Home

The swath of West Bank destruction by the Civil Administration continues, with 10 homes of Bedouin families demolished this week. That's how the school year started for one first-grader.

A young Bedouin girl among the ruins. Homeless in the broiling heat.
A young Bedouin girl among the ruins. Homeless in the broiling heat. Alex Levac

The force swept into the Bedouin camp, did its demolition job and was gone within two hours. Crushed tin siding, scattered on the hillside and in the valley below, sways in the wind, its creaking sounds cutting through the deathly silence. Toddlers skitter about barefoot among the ruins, poking at them in the vain hope of unearthing some lost treasure. Their fathers are trying to come to terms what happened, and tell their tale to a handful of Palestinian reporters and cameramen who have arrived at the disaster zone.

A jeep bearing the symbol of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is also here, to enumerate and report. So too is a B’Tselem human-rights organization field researcher, Amer Aruri.

Until two years ago, a community of some 500 Bedouin shepherds lived peacefully here, in the al-Hadirath encampment, between the settlement of Adam and the Palestinian village of Jeba, outside Ramallah. Seventeen residents lost their ramshackle dwellings on Monday morning, along with nearly all their property. Among them are some 10 children who just started the school year and now have no home.

With their long experience in destruction, the Civil Administration personnel did their usual efficient job. They showed up at around 9 A.M. – four jeeps, one big tractor and one small one, and a van, backed up by armed troops – and were gone by 11. In that time, 15 tin shacks belonging to Bedouin families, including five pens for livestock, were crushed, run over, ripped apart and uprooted. Now their remains are scattered in the wind, heaps of metal and small boards next to what were people’s homes, like monuments to what once existed here.

We are at the ground zero of squalor: The huts contained next to nothing – certainly not electricity or water (that goes without saying) – except children with runny noses and tattered clothes. Now they no longer even have a shack to call home. The items the Bedouin were allowed to remove amount to barely nothing: a few piles of woolen blankets, a baby’s crib that stands upside down, and little else.

The Sha’ar Binyamin industrial zone and a Rami Levy supermarket are visible in the valley below.

Fatma Arara grabs her father’s leg forcefully, trying to cuddle up to it, and he responds affectionately. She’s 5 years old and barefoot, like all the children in this community. Now she rushes off to climb rocks like a mountain goat and to rummage in the rubble, digging up a pair of rusty scissors. Her cousin Safi, 6, is hurtling across the rough terrain on a plastic bicycle, the only toy in sight. “Shalom kita alef, Safi” – “Welcome, first-graders.” He’s just entered elementary school in Jeba.

Demolition orders were issued here 18 months ago. This is Area C in the West Bank, meaning it is under full Israeli military and civil rule. Nothing more was heard from the authorities after the orders were received. Until this morning.

Some of these Bedouin wander between al-Hadirath and the Jordan Rift in search of grazing land for their flocks, so there weren’t many people at the site when the Israelis arrived to destroy their homes. The children were in school and some of the adults were off in the valley.

Salem Arara, for example, was herding his sheep near Jericho. He’s 34, and his household consists of his mother, two wives and nine children. Like all the men here, his face is dark and seared by the sun, his head swaddled for protection against its pitiless rays. He makes his living from his livestock – 130 sheep and goats.

His cousin, Ahmed Arara, was here when the wreckers arrived. Ahmed is 33, a shepherd who tends 60 sheep. The sheep are grazing now in the valley below, which is still a patchy green from a rainy-season stream that slices through it. His arm is swollen; he spent the night in the open with his sheep and was stung by a hornet. The soldiers, he says, ordered everyone out of the shacks and concentrated them in one place, and they watched as their homes were demolished.

“We have nowhere to go,” they all say now. They’ll spend the coming nights in the open. The Red Cross will probably bring a few white tents – the standard procedure. The Palestinian Authority also promised humanitarian aid, but only in three weeks’ time.

“This was my house” and “Here is where my house stood,” the shepherds say plaintively, pointing to the piles of ruins. The few Palestinian journalists have already left. The people are left to their fate. They will ask for compensation from God, Ahmed says.

One resident, Yunes Saraya, 28, points out they didn’t resist because “it’s soldiers, you know.” Fahmi Saraya adds that it’s because they’re Bedouin, the weakest link in the food chain that lives under the occupation: “In the Oslo period [in the 1990s], we went to Abu Amar [Yasser Arafat] and told him we live here, 150,000 Bedouin in the West Bank – now 200,000. But Abu Amar forgot us and agreed that all this would be Area C.”

A spokesperson for the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories told Haaretz, “The structures were demolished after the enforcement process was completed and all the appropriate orders issued. [On Monday], 13 structures that were illegally built in Jeba were demolished. The owners of the structures submitted a request for a building permit.” (According to B’Tselem, 15 structures were razed.)

Last week, we visited demolition sites in the village of Fasayil in the Jordan Rift and outside the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. In those cases, 127 people – 80 of them children – were left homeless in the broiling heat.

According to data published this week by B’Tselem, in August alone the Civil Administration demolished 50 structures in Area C – more than in the whole first half of 2015. It’s not clear why this craving for destruction seized the administration in the hottest month of the year.

“Now I live under the sun,” says F., 32, a father of five who works in the Israeli industrial zone in Mishor Adumim. “Do you know what I told that son-of-a-bitch captain who came to destroy our homes? That my family has lived here for 40 years. ‘The Jews came to Adam, built buildings, brought water, so why are you only looking at me?’ I asked him. He said, ‘I don’t care.’ The captain will throw you into the garbage and say: ‘I don’t care.’

“We asked the captain, ‘Leave one place for everyone, 20 square meters for protection from the sun.’ He said no. He is inhuman. I don’t know why they did that. What does it have to do with the Israeli government? What did he think? He destroyed, but tomorrow I will build again. What did he think? That I would leave this place? He is wrong.”

Father of seven Jamil Hadalin is a maintenance man at the nearby Psagot Winery. He didn’t go to work today because his home was demolished; his boss knows about it. He’ll go back to work tomorrow, maybe even later today. He likes his job at the boutique winery.

Salem unrolls a rug and kneels for the afternoon prayer on the arid ground, creating an atmosphere of splendor and strength amid the ruins. Two children in school uniforms return home on a donkey and can’t believe their eyes: This morning, when they left for school, they still had a house.