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Covering a 300-square-meter plot of land southeast of Jerusalem is an eco-friendly building made solely of used tires and mud. The Jahalin tribe is planning to use the make-shift structures as a grade school and kindergarten. That is, if the Civil Administration, which is subordinate to the Defense Ministry, does not raze the four-and-a-half room educational facility.

Beginning August 20, the first day of the upcoming school year throughout the Palestinian Authority, the children of the tribe's three encampments will be able to receive instruction at a school close to their homes. They will not have to be inconvenienced into traveling all the way to Jericho and Azariya on dangerous thoroughfares and roads that have already claimed the lives of four children in the last two years.

Over the last year, the children have lost many school days due to poor road conditions, blockage of access roads by security fences, and cash-strapped parents who are unable to afford the transportation costs.

If the Civil Administration decides not to raze the structure, the children, who live with their parents in huts, tents, and rickety shacks will, for the first time in the history of their tribe, be able to enjoy playing games and leisure activities in a safe structure. Its component parts keep its inhabitants cool during the blazing summer and warm and dry during the winter.

Though construction of the four structures began on May 26, the idea was conceived in December. Members of the Italian non-governmental organization Vento di Terra ("Wind of the Earth") - who have long been active in the West Bank and have worked in the past with the Jahalin on other projects, including the founding of three vegetable gardens - contacted a friend, Valerio Marazzi.

Marazzi, an Italian architect, was asked how it was possible to build a school in the desert with no money. His immediate answer: "Used tires." When he saw that his friends were questioning his judgment he sent them links describing the "Earthships" invented by architect Michael Reynolds: tires filled with local soil and covered with dried mud which made up the "bricks" of thousands of structures in South America.

To cut costs, Marazzi and engineer Diego Torriani planned the school and kindergarten from their Milan home using a map they downloaded online. A fistful of local soil was sent to Marazzi, who was deeply impressed by its quality: clay studded with large pieces of gravel. Ideal for stability and perfect for making mortar.

From trash to treasure

Building under extreme conditions is the 30-year-old Marazzi's specialty. During his holidays he volunteers in ecological and affordable building projects in impoverished areas. The latest course he took was titled "From trash to treasure," an idea which he conveyed to the Jahalin community.

At first they too had thought he had lost his mind: "Tires? I worked in construction, and I've never heard anything of the sort," said Saliman Arara, 51, one of the community's Mukhtars (leaders). But as of April the tribes-people devoted themselves to the cause and began collecting tires. "We went to Ramallah, Anata, and even Nablus. We looked for tires everywhere, we asked friends, we went from one tire repair shop after another asking for used tires," Arara said with a smile. Enthusiastic garage owners agreed to sell them each tire for one shekel. By the time Marazzi arrived, a treasure of 2,000 tires awaited him.

During the first half hour of his stay, Marazzi recalls, he dug in the ground and commenced filling a tire or two, as the doubtful Jahalin men surrounded him and looked on. "Later the children began imitating my movements, then the adults began correcting them, and one by one they joined the build." Ten men worked ten-hour days for two weeks: readied the ground, dug, laid the first layer of tires, filled every tire with dry soil, compressed it well using a hammer, and set a second layer of tires. Only the roof, made out of wooden support beams with a flat plywood panel on top, cost money ? 7,000 euros donated by Italian friends and artists.

Then came the "mud injection" for the walls. In the last two to three weeks several dozen volunteers from Israel and from abroad have joined the work, some of them from the group Rabbis for Human Rights. Together, the laborers prepared the mud in order to fill the gaps between the tires and then started to cover them with more and more layers. Today, the tire walls are almost all covered in earth, and the rounded structures look as if they sprang from the ground and from the mountains. In the next stage, to maintain the walls, they will need to spread oil on them. Marazzi proposed collecting oil oil that was used for frying falafel, although the inhabitants feared the oil would cause the mud to crumble. It was decided to conduct a trial spread on one meter of the wall.

Wooden beams create a space between the walls and the roof. During summer, the hot air rises and leaves from the upper entrances, bringing about a constant and pleasant flow of air. In the afternoon, one of the structures can be used as a medical clinic and forms a place for work by doctors, who at present refuse to come because of the intense heat. "In the tin shacks, a chick break out of an egg without hatching it," Arara said.

Aspiring for permanent housing

But it is forbidden to get carried away with dreams. On June 24, Civil Administration inspectors served the residents with orders to cease work. The Jahalin tribe has lived in the area since being expelled in 1948 from Tel Arad in the Negev. Until the mid-1970s, they roamed according to the seasons, between the Jordan Valley and the hills and the springs. Since then movement in the area has been restricted, and not just their movement.

On June 29 attorney Shlomo Lecker wrote to Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Civil Administration, telling him that as somebody who represents many from the Jahalin collective in the area, he knows that "the 'Bedouin' way of life has since long stopped being a desire? many of the younger generation have obtained an education and they aspire now to live in fitting conditions, similar to those in which residents of the settlements next to the Bedouin encampments live."

They cannot, however, improve their conditions because the Israeli authorities are not letting them. Lekar recalls: "A permit was never issued for the establishment or existence of a building from every type used by the Bedouin. The planners at [the base of the civil administration] Beit El completely abstain from planning for the Bedouin population under their authority. In contrast, the inspection unit acted to issue orders to demolish every tent, hut, pen, warehouse, kitchen and well used by the Jahalin." This is the reason the tribe members knew that there was no point in submitting a request for permission to build the school.

On Thursday, the sub-committee for inspection of the higher planning council at the Civil Administration met at the Beit El base, for a session that was supposed to debate the legality of the tire structure. According to the usual practice at such a meeting, the order to cease work was replaced with a demolition order.

The office of the coordinator of activities in the territories (to which the Civil Administration is subordinate) told Haaretz that the order to cease work on construction at the school was issued "in light of the fact that what we are talking about here is unlawful construction." The office did not say whether the order had been turned into a demolition order.