Red Cross Stops Providing Emergency Tents to Palestinians in Jordan Valley

Decision made after officials learn Israeli army methodically keeps tents from arriving at their destination.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The International Committee of the Red Cross has stopped providing emergency tents to Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley whose homes have been demolished by Israel.

The aid organization made the decision after its officials learned that in recent months, the army has methodically kept the tents from arriving at their destination, confiscating or destroying them. Conversations with officials in the Civil Administration, the Israeli military authority that governs the West Bank, made it clear to the Red Cross that the Israeli authorities were determined not to change this policy and that they would keep preventing the tents from reaching the affected communities. At the same time, a breakdown of the data on demolitions carried out by Israel shows that the number of demolitions in the Jordan Valley is increasing.

While the Red Cross did not announce its decision officially, its spokesman, Ran Goldstein, confirmed to Haaretz that it would continue providing emergency items, such as mattresses, field kitchens, blankets and personal hygiene kits, but would no longer provide tents. Still, he said, the Red Cross would continue providing emergency tents elsewhere in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, where the Israeli authorities demolish homes.

Statistics on home demolitions in Area C prove that over the past year, the Civil Administration stepped up its efforts to remove Palestinian communities from the Jordan Valley by demolishing their homes. The statistics, complied by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, show that the number of buildings the Civil Administration demolished in 2013 — 390 — was more than double that of 2012 — 172. Of the 390 buildings that Israel demolished in the Jordan Valley in 2013, 156 were residential buildings while the rest were structures such as livestock pens, storage sheds and field kitchens. In the rest of Area C, Israel demolished 52 residential buildings and 123 other buildings. In East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities demolished 52 residential buildings and 46 ancillary structures — 663 buildings in all. In 2013, 1,103 Palestinians, including 558 children, lost their homes as a result of the demolitions. In the Jordan Valley alone, 590 people, including 297 children, lost their homes because of Israel’s policy.

The Red Cross’s decision is a blow to the herding and farming communities (some of them Bedouin, others not) who live in the area. Thanks to emergency assistance from the Red Cross, which includes food, and later assistance in water, food and other equipment from other organizations, most inhabitants have managed to stay in the Jordan Valley despite the repeated demolitions. The provision of emergency humanitarian equipment to communities affected by natural disasters or violent conflicts is one of the declared missions of humanitarian groups like the Red Cross.

On January 30, 2014, the army and the Civil Administration destroyed almost all the tents and huts of the herding community of Umm al-Jamal in Ein al-Hilweh in the northern Jordan Valley. The demolition left 66 people, including 36 children, homeless. Hamza Zbiedat, a resident of the Jordan Valley and a field researcher from the Ma’an Development Center, was there the day after the demolition, when the soldiers came back to make sure there was no attempt to rebuild. He told Haaretz that when he heard one of the residents asking the soldiers, “But where will I go?” and the soldier replied, “To Tubas” — in other words, to a salient Area A that is under the civilian responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. Residents of the herding community whose homes had been destroyed told Zbieidat they could not migrate elsewhere in the Jordan Valley, as they had been able to do in the past, “because every place is declared a closed military zone.” Zbiedat also said he had noticed in recent months that other aid organizations and the Palestinian Authority had struggled to reach communities in the Jordan Valley to provide replacement equipment because the army prevented them.

Civil Administration officials said the buildings were demolished because they had been constructed without permits. Palestinian Authority officials believe the demolitions are a unilateral measure, while in the opinion of the European Union and international aid organizations, the demolitions are a violation of international law, because the Palestinians are a protected population living on occupied land. On February 4, representatives of EU countries in Jerusalem and Ramallah published a press release “expressing concern” over the demolition of most of the buildings in Umm al-Jamal. The text reads, in part: “These demolitions come in addition to other recent demolitions, such as the demolition of a home and a caravan in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina on 27 Jan, which resulted in the displacement of 19 people, including 11 children. On 29 January, 2 houses and one animal barn were demolished in the village of al-Jiftlik al Musafah, rendering two families homeless.”

The press release reiterated the EU’s stance that the demolitions are an act of forced transfer, and that in the past (May 2012 and December 2013), the EU council “expressed grave concern at house demolitions and called upon Israel to meet its obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C, including by halting the forced transfer of population and demolitions of Palestinian housing and infrastructure.”

The text of the EU statement:

The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah are seriously concerned by the demolition of nearly all structures in the herding community of Ein Al Hilweh / Um Al Jamal in Tubas District on 30 Jan, which resulted in the displacement of 66 people including 36 children These demolitions come in addition to other recent demolitions, such as the demolition of a home and a caravan in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina on 27 Jan, which resulted in the displacement of 19 people, including 11 children. On 29 January, 2 houses and one animal barn were demolished in the village of al-Jiftlik al Musafah, rendering two families homeless.

As in their statement of 19 December 2013, the EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah recall the 16 December 2013 Council Conclusions as well as the 14 May 2012 Council Conclusions, in which the EU expressed grave concern at house demolitions and called upon Israel to meet its obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C, including by halting the forced transfer of population and demolitions of Palestinian housing and infrastructure.

A Palestinian farmer in a Jordan Valley field.Credit: Michal Fattal

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