Rashid Dabak’s tin shack, which was torn down on Wednesday morning in the Jordan Valley village of Aqaba, was the 260th Palestinian structure that Israel has demolished in the West Bank since the beginning of the year.
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The bulldozer smashed the concrete blocks, roof and tin walls, including a kitchenette and bathroom, with a few crushing blows, before continuing on down the village streets. Along with another bulldozer it destroyed six more structures in the village: the home of Khaled Subih’s family; a livestock shelter; an empty hatchery; and three agricultural shacks.
In East Jerusalem, the municipality has demolished 49 buildings since the beginning of 2015, according to figures provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.
At around 6 A.M., the bulldozers – accompanied by Israeli military jeeps – appeared on the road to Aqaba. Soldiers ordered Dabak, his wife and son to leave their small home, which is surrounded by a fruit orchard. The soldiers prevented other villagers from approaching. Laborers – some villagers say they were Thai – emptied the house’s modest contents and then the bulldozer struck.
“What does it matter if the laborers are Thai, Arab or Israeli?” said Dabak. “The order is the same.”
It took the force about two hours to tear down the seven structures. Subih’s house was already empty, the family having left earlier, knowing it was to be demolished.
Not far from there – on the eastern side of the Tayyasir checkpoint, on the mountain slope toward the Jordan Valley – the Civil Administration demolished 14 more Palestinian structures, in Khirbet Yarza and Al-Mita. About two hours after the large force had left Aqaba, Dabak improvised a gate from the debris. He dug around the trees in 42-degree-heat and checked to see if any pipes or bricks could be saved from the rubble.
Dabak was born in the village 61 years ago. In 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, it declared the spot a closed military area. Ever since, it has banned any construction there. Before the occupation, some 600 people lived in Aqaba, a few in stone houses but most of them in tents. They made their living off the land, as farmers. The military training with live fire damaged the crops and gradually drove them to nearby villages and towns.
The Dabak family also moved to a small house in Tayyasir, but their land remained in Aqaba. The children grew up and married, and the house became too crowded. In 2003, Dabak built the tin shack for himself, his wife and one of his sons. Immediately, he received orders to stop the construction, followed by demolition orders.
Over the years, six Aqaba villagers were killed due to the army’s live-fire training activities. According to B’Tselem, two were shot dead by soldiers and four, including a 6-year-old girl, were killed when dud ammunition suddenly exploded. At least 38 villagers were wounded in similar circumstances.
Haj Sami Sadek, the head of the village council, was wounded in 1971 while he was working in the field, hit by three bullets fired by Israeli soldiers. He was 16. Half of his body was paralyzed and he moves around in a wheelchair.
“The structures were demolished because they are in a firing zone,” was the Civil Administration’s explanation on Wednesday. Since the area is a live-fire training zone, there is no master plan for it and no building permits are issued.
“Maybe the Israelis can explain this to me,” asked Sadeq for the millionth time. “Do only settlers experience natural growth while we Palestinians don’t?” Following a petition to the High Court of Justice in 1999, the army promised not to hold live-fire exercises inside the village. However, the High Court, in its concern for the rule of law, didn’t agree to revoke the demolition orders in a 2008 ruling.
Sadek has overseen a construction boom in the village over the past 16 years, despite the restrictions. “This is our home and we have a right to live here,” he says.
Only four stone structures, built before 1967, are deemed “legal.” All the rest, some 70 homes, were built without Israeli permits, Sadek says. These, as well as animal shelters, henhouses and agricultural structures, are always in danger of demolition.
Some four years ago, when the village petitioned the High Court of Justice, the authorities told the villagers to submit applications for building permits. They submitted the forms and paid the fees for each one, but received no reply from the civil administration.
Sadek had a mosque, kindergarten, school, clinic and park built in the village, as well as roads, bus stops and a boulevard. A small herbal packing plant was built with a contribution from USAID. Plaques have been erected to indicate Germany, Norway and Britain’s support for various initiatives. The U.S. NGO Rebuilding Alliance contributes to construction and spreads the history of the little village. All the construction was done according to a master plan approved by the Palestinian Ministry of Local Government.
“It’s my right as council head,” says Sadek. A committee he established approved the construction of 18 houses, and intends to approve more. He has also linked the village to the power grid, but his request to connect to the water system was rejected by the Israeli authorities and the villagers must instead buy water from tankers.
The structures demolished this week, and some others four months ago, were on the outskirts of the village. Civil Administration officials have hinted they won’t demolish the houses in the center of the village, but said that in their opinion the villagers should move to Tayyasir, which is under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority.
On Wednesday morning, amid the rubble that was once his home, Dabak apologized for not offering coffee or tea. “The problem with Israelis,” he concluded, “is that they suffer from a weak sense of humanism.”