In remote Palestinian villages, catastrophe becomes routine
Demolition orders are the norm in small Palestinian villages; thankfully some 'nudniks' won't let us forget.
If it were not for a few nudniks, I wouldn't have to deal with a report about every work stoppage order for every tent, or demolition orders for bathrooms, or actual demolitions of tents or rooms made out of concrete blocks. In fact, if it were not for those nudniks, perhaps I might only recognize the names of a few places in the southern Hebron hills: Lucifer Farm, Carmel, Susya, Maon and Avigail - all illegal outposts and settlements in the middle of nowhere. But these nudniks, these nuisances, bandy about the names of places such as Um el Kheir, al Mufakara, Bir el Eid, el Fakhit, Jinba and more. They speak no less naturally about these lesser-known places than others who are referring to Beit Hakerem in Jerusalem and the Florentine quarter of Tel Aviv.
So how have these people, and the places about which they speak, become such nuisances? Because of my hesitation as to whether and how I can transform the information into a news item. I can hear in my head the following conversation with a news editor:
"But you brought a report about a demolition order last week."
That was about a work stoppage order, and the report wasn't published.
"And two weeks ago Akiva Eldar and Gideon Levy wrote their features about demolition orders."
But those were about different demolition orders.
This is the crux of a genuine dilemma: the steady, ever-proliferating stream of demolition orders issued against Palestinian construction are routine. A routine that stems from policy. A routine that reveals or conceals a sequence of personal and group catastrophes, delivered by the Netanyahu government to the Palestinians. That is, a routine of catastrophes.
The media loves tragedies, but it also loathes routine. The routine of catastrophe in this case is comprised not only of demolition orders. It is also about what comes between such orders - life without water and electricity and roads - all things which the outposts of Lucifer Farm and Avigail have, needless to say, but are nonexistent in Jinba, a village of caves in the Arad Valley that have been in existence since the 19th century, located right on the border of the Green Line, in the middle of nowhere.
Jinba's simple stone homes were demolished by the IDF for the first time in 1954, and then again in the 1980s; there was an evacuation justified on the grounds that this is "a training firing zone." There was to be a (conditional ) return to the village following a yet-to-be-concluded legal fight. There have been military exercises in the village's fields, and these have recently resumed ahead of High Court hearings. In a kind of tango with bans imposed by the government come reprisals and attacks launched by settlers. All this is routine.
Newspapers aren't supposed to report on routines: traffic lights in Tel Aviv turn red and green, traffic on Route 1 flows, and the school girls from the Immanuel settlement go to school. Children in Jinba face the option of living with an unreported routine: they can study in the far-off town of Yatta, and live there for many long weeks with relatives, away from their parents; or, they can forgo school.
Here's something that breaks the routine. Khaled Jabarin, a parent and a native of the cave village, told me that village residents have decided they have a third option. They built a small school in their village so that children from lower grades can study in the morning, and go home to their parents in the afternoon. An Islamic-American charity group donated funds for the construction of two concrete classrooms, and the Palestinian Authority sends teachers.
The school is now facing a demolition order issued by the Civil Administration. Order must be restored! There are 22 demolition orders, in fact. One pertains to the rocky, dangerous path that leads down to the village, which residents have dared to upgrade - not that they used, heaven forbid, asphalt, but they had the gumption to flatten out the path a bit, and remove some stones.
This area at the end of the world is sprinkled with caves and tent villages. After the 1967 occupation, Israeli authorities have done their utmost to prevent the natural growth of these villages and domiciles. You don't have to be a strategic expert to grasp that when a village area is classified as a firing range area, and when demolition orders are issued against wells and solar panels, the authority's intention is to expel indigenous residents.
Back to the nudniks who stop us from remaining ignorant; they are activists from the Taayush organization, Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence and the Villages Group. Side by side with the steadfast residents, they work to foil the expulsion.
A library is also a means of thwarting expulsions. At the demolition order-ridden village of Um El Kheir (the lush Carmel settlement prospers nearby ), residents set up a "center for communal activity." Using funds raised by the Villages Group, the center purchased the frame of an old commercial vehicle. An organization from Ramallah donated the books. Ehud Krinis, of the Villages Group, noted that during the stormy winter days, the old car frame proved itself as a shelter for the books, while the communal activity center's tents flapped and then flew up in the wind. Then, on May 2, a Civil Administration official who called himself Carlos turned up at Um El Kheir, and issued a work stoppage order against "a car frame's use as a storage area."
The Civil Administration says in response, "This involves the issuance of a stoppage order concerning a structure that was established illegally, and without the obtainment of a permit from the appropriate authorities. Owners of the facility have the right to appeal the order, and present their positions to the Civil Administration's monitoring subcommittee; they have yet to exercise this right. Upholding the law is imperative. We regret that parties which have various interests continually attempt to violate the law, and we will continue to act to assist the population of Judea and Samaria in areas of education, infrastructure and social welfare, within the limits of the law."
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