"The Tanzim showed up one day," said the woman, 60-ish, the fear visible in her eyes. These are not Fatah people. This is a department within the Civil Administration - "the subcommittee for supervision of the supreme planning council," whose accepted and frightening abbreviation among Palestinian residents of the West Bank is "the Tanzim" (the planning). This is the department that issues demolition orders for Palestinian houses and stop work orders for construction projects.
H.A., an official in the Civil Administration's Tanzim, which the frightened woman was referring to, came twice during the last two months to the small Bedouin town of Arab a-Ramadin, south of Qalqilyah, on December 28, 2003 and on February 10, 2004. He hung up and took down three different kinds of orders: four "stop work orders", six "final stop work and razing orders and two "notices granting the right to object to demolition orders."
The buildings designated for demolition are: tin structure 10x8, tin structure 8x6 and tin structure 12x10, cement block and tin structure 10x10, cement block and tin structure 18x8 and cement block and tin structure 14x8. Two orders dated December 28, 2003 grant the residents a three-day extension to request that another cement block structure not be razed and one to request that the generator building and electricity pylons not be razed. The rest of the buildings in this town are like the structures for which demolition orders were issued: around 10 small, simple concrete structures and another 23 tin huts, that are boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, in which the 250 members of the tribe live.
Eight kilometers from the Green Line
The speakers beg that their names be omitted, that whatever they say not be attributed to them and that their photos not be printed in the newspaper. "I just want to get home to be with my family, I don't want them to prevent me from being with my family at home," said one tribe member. They are frightened; they fear possible revenge from the Civil Administration, or in its alternate, euphemistic name, "the Coordination and Liaison Administration," which issues them permits allowing them to be in their homes that are valid for six months. Arab a-Ramadin and another four neighboring Palestinian communities (Arab Abu Farda and the villages of Wadi ar-Rasha, Ras a-Tira and a-Daba) are trapped in one of 80 enclaves, the loops that have been and will be created by the separation fence between them and the Green Line.
These enclave-loops were created in order to ensure that most of the settlements are outside the fence. The enclave of Arab a-Ramadin was created to ensure that Alfei Menashe is outside the fence. The fence - with its barbed wire, ditches, patrol tracks, wide security road and the gates that should open three times a day - creates a loop here that penetrates deep into the West Bank, a distance of around eight kilometers from the Green Line. As in other enclaves, it cuts off residents from their fields, separates clinics and their medical staffs from their patients, grocery stores from their customers, students from their schools. A school and grocery store that were respectively 300 and 700 meters away until a year or two ago, are now several kilometers further away and that in turn also imposes economic hardship on the family: the cost of taxi fares.
Three of the older Bedouin who still tended sheep had to sell them: the enclave does not provide enough space for grazing. The families no longer have the means to regularly purchase fodder for the sheep and goats due to the loss of job opportunities in Israel and the West Bank. All three of the elderly shepherds became physically ill after they sold their flocks.
The IDF and the Civil Administration in October 2003 created a special category for those thousands of Palestinians who live in the area between the fence and the Green Line, which has been officially declared a military area closed to Palestinians, but not closed to Jews: "long-term residents." The regulations that apply to this new category and the fact that the area is a closed military area grant Civil Administration officials full authority to check residency permits once every few months, and to renew or not renew them.
The new category obligates the residents to request an entry permit to those areas for anyone who is not registered with the Israeli authorities as a resident of the enclave: relatives, cab drivers, doctors, sanitation men, teachers, etc. Some receive the permits; others do not. The permits issued to Arab a-Ramadin residents - so that they can stay in their homes inside the closed military area, leave and then return - are valid until April 2004. Tribe members are convinced that if they are quoted, someone in the Civil Administration or the Shin Bet General Security Service, upon whose good graces they depend, will decide "due to security reasons" not to renew their permit to enter their home.
The word "home" prompts tired smiles on the faces of Arab a-Ramadin residents. Their small tin huts and concrete structures are spread over a green hill and its rocky slopes, in between a few sheep pens, small vegetable patches, improvised fences, family diwans (spaces covered with cloth sheets and rugs). They are originally from the Be'er Sheva area and were expelled and fled in 1948. They first settled in the Hebron area and in the mid-1950s headed north with their flocks to the Qalqilyah region. Gradually, and especially after the economic changes sparked by the capture of the territories in 1967, they began to settle down, and attempted to modernize: from tents and a nomadic life of shepherding, they switched to corrugated tin huts, more urban livelihoods such as construction, and started sending their sons and daughters to study in local schools. It was a natural process, not something imposed on them from above. Some of them purchased their lands from the surrounding villages, others leased lands or swapped other parcels of land for the lands here.
Without a master plan
According to some of the final demolition orders, it seem that already in 2000 stop work orders were issued for some of the structures, including the one that houses the electricity generator. Arab a-Ramadin residents always knew that the Israeli authorities did not draw up a master plan for them and that there was no point in submitting requests to build real houses that matched the improved financial situation of several of them and their changed, modern tastes. Because there is no master plan, they also did not connect to the electricity grid - the one that lights up, for example, the neighboring community which has been developing since 1982: Alfei Menashe. They are also not officially connected to the water network: they hooked up a long plastic pipe from the village of Habla. In the summer, the water is boiling. The Oslo Accords designated them as Area C, which is under Israeli civilian and security responsibility. Several demolition and stop work orders were also issued in two nearby places: the village of Wadi ar-Rasha and the corrugated tin hut community of the small Abu Farda tribe. Each one has around 90 residents. Both of them abut Alfei Menashe: one is located adjacent to its industrial zone and the other is adjacent to its western neighborhoods.
When Israel started building the separation fence's loops around them, the workers razed one of Wadi ar-Rasha's barns, built by its owners six years earlier. The reason: It was too close to the fence. In April 2003, when construction of the fence was fully underway, five additional demolition orders arrived in Wadi ar-Rasha: for a concrete structure, for an extension of an existing house and for a large tin structure. And there were another two demolition orders for two barns. This village, like several other neighboring villages, was apparently set up in the 19th century by residents of the village of Tulat, which is located to the east, whose lands officially extend to Jaljuliya in the west. It was a natural process of Palestinian settlement, typical of the rural residents who went with their flocks several kilometers away from the parent community, made homes inside caves and gradually settled in the new location. In recent years, after the Civil Administration issued demolition orders, building extensions intended to ease the crowding in Wadi ar-Rasha were razed.
In the two Bedouin communities and in Wadi ar-Rasha, residents are convinced that the Civil Administration's aim is to eliminate them completely from the area so that Alfei Menashe can develop even more, in the direction of the Green Line. One of the residents points to section six of their residence permit: "this permit does not represent proof of legal rights, including legal ownership or residency rights in the area, whichever is relevant." In other words, say the threatened residents, someone will come tomorrow and say that the land we are living on - not just the house - is not ours and that we are trespassing, that we have to leave.
And indeed, the Civil Administration, in its response to Haaretz, claims "the settlement of the Ramadin tribe, Abu Farda and Wadi ar-Rasha are illegal [the mistakes are in the original - A.H.]. Over the years, orders were issued, as they are issued for all illegal construction." The Civil Administration spokesman also stated that there is no connection between the construction of the fence and the issuing of demolition orders. "This a statutory legal process, civilian, of enforcing the law ... the Civil Administration is charged with enforcing the law as it relates to all matters of illegal construction in Area C of Judea and Samaria."
According to one Arab a-Ramadin resident, a Civil Administration official has tried over the last few months to lobby them to leave the area and settle elsewhere. In her response, the Civil Administration spokesman does not confirm or deny this claim. But, she said, "The Civil Administration is now in the middle of concerted efforts to review the correlation between master plans in Area C and the reality and the needs of the Palestinian population living in the area, in order to find solutions for issues of this nature." The Civil Administration's response also stated that work is now underway to connect the villages to the electricity grid (but in Arab a-Ramadin, for example, they do not know about that and haven't seen any signs that they're being connected to the electricity grid).
The Palestinians in the Alfei Menashe enclave do not believe the Israeli promises. For them, the demolition orders are more tangible than any promise given in response to an Israeli newspaper's query, while the discussions in The Hague are going on. "If they raze all of our tin and cement block structure," says an Arab a-Ramadin resident, "we will move into tents. The way it used to be. And if they want us to go away from here, then please, send us back to our natural place, where we were originally - Be'er Sheva."
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