An Error and a Mishap: A Day in the Life of Palestinian Villagers

On a slaughterer kept from doing his job, sheep who refuse to be silent and power-hungry clerks

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Last week, “an error and a mishap” courtesy of the Civil Administration took me away from the real news fit for print. Actually, everyday has its trifles to distract me from what really matters.

This time it was another nudnik complaining about a roadblock, more communities of shepherd-farmer scofflaws who still haven’t learned to make do without water, and more olive trees that had the gall to stand in the way of vintners wanting to cultivate their grapes for Jewish wine.

The error was detected on Sunday, October 13, less than 24 hours before the High Court of Justice was once more set to discuss a petition against the state’s plan to evict the inhabitants of the tiny village of Zanuta to the densely populated enclave of Dahariya. My seven readers, familiar as they are with those trivialities, surely remember: when God at Mount Sinai endowed the Civil Administration’s architects and planners with guidelines, He did not include master plans for the Palestinians living in Area C (the bedrock of our existence). So the Israeli government, devoted as it is to the rule of law, gives out demolition orders there every day.

There was an error, wrote attorney Yitzhak Barth of the State Prosecutor’s Office. In December 2012, the judges of the High Court of Justice ordered in writing that the representatives of the law agencies must respond in “more detail on the question of what was to happen to the 27 families [of Zanuta] living there when the demolition orders [of their tents and homes] were carried out.” But somehow, an error crept in and the esteemed court’s decision was given no esteem — it was not obeyed. Ten months later, the officials in charge of planning at the Civil Administration have not given the court what it explicitly asked for. Well, they obviously have other things on their minds; they’re up to their eyebrows in constructing housing for Jews in Area C, our all-in-all. Attorney Barth promised that now, right now, at this very moment, the Civil Administration’s representatives were in the midst of in an urgent discussion on the question that has gone unanswered for the past ten months: the fate of those 27 families.

On reading the request for postponement, Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel wrote, “It is difficult to let an error of this kind go by quietly, and all the more so the postponement of the hearing, which removes the possibility of moving forward with the case and bringing it to a conclusion. The petitioners’ representative [the Association for Civil Rights in Israel] was generous enough to agree to the postponement. In the absence of any alternative, the hearing will be postponed....”

Why deny it? The only error the state and its partners in crime made was in thinking that such a minor matter as their demolition plan for Zanuta would go unchallenged.

The mishap occurred last Tuesday, the first day of the Muslim festival of Id al-Adha (the feast of the sacrifice, in which Muslims commemorate the near-sacrifice of Isma'il by Abraham). A resident of the village of Nabi Samwil called me on the morning of the holiday. He told me that the branch of the District Coordination Office at the Qalandiyah checkpoint (which reports to the Civil Administration, which reports to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which reports to the defense minister) refused to coordinate the entry of a slaughterer who could carry out the proper ritual slaughter of animals for the feast in the village and community of Al-Khalaila.

These are the only two Palestinian communities in the large area where the settlements of Givat Ze’ev and Givon are located, an area that was annexed de facto to Israel. The Civil Administration has forbidden construction and development in both. The separation barrier and prohibitions on movement have cut the inhabitants off from their neighboring villages and from nearby Jerusalem. They can use a single checkpoint in the separation barrier, Al-Jib, where they are subject to strict orders regarding what may and may not pass through. Relatives, professionals or friends who want to visit must ask the DCO for a permit in advance. The prohibitions on construction and the separation from the neighboring communities have caused many young people to leave their homes and move to enclaves in Areas A and B — which is exactly what the state wants to happen. Why deny it?

Last Monday, I reported in Haaretz that the DCO prevented residents of both communities from bringing in nine water tanks and pumps for private landscaping. To improve their vulnerable economic and nutritional situation, the residents had decided to grow their own vegetables. The women’s organization of Nabi Samwil is behind the project. Norwegian People’s Aid donated the containers and drip-irrigation systems. Last year, the DCO allowed ten water tanks to be brought in for the same purpose. So why was it not allowed all of a sudden? What changed? Maybe the officer in charge was replaced. Maybe someone was in a bad mood. Maybe the DCO officials simply realized that improving the residents’ economic situation went against the supreme goal of making both communities disappear.

Israel prides itself on the freedom of worship it grants to minorities. The Civil Administration has advisers on Arab affairs who certainly know something about Islamic customs. On Tuesday, neither community was permitted to celebrate the sacred festival properly. I suspected that this was a petty instance of tit-for-tat over my report about the water tanks, and prompted by this suspicion, I sent an urgent query to the spokesperson Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

The answer I received about two hours later was that “it was a technical error in the computer networks. As a result, entry into the area could not be coordinated. The error was fixed, and now entry into the area is permitted with advance coordination.” My acquaintance in Nabi Samwil called the DCO office again, but there was no answer. I wrote once again to the Coordinator spokesperson that the DCO branch in Qalandiyah was not answering its telephone, but I received no response. The slaughterer was kept out, and the festival celebration was ruined.

Behind the error and the mishap hide clerks who have uninhibited power and authority. The population that is subject to their orders has no voting rights, no rights to inspection and supervision. Changes in government do not put their salaries at risk, and one of the requirements in their job description is, simply, maliciousness.

A resident of Zanuta photographed in July. Credit: Emil Salman

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