Between Demolition Orders, a Palestinian Village Hangs in a State of Limbo

Dakika, a village on the edge of the south Hebron hills, is being slated for demolition with no less than 53 orders from the Civil Administration.

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Mohammed Gurab sits on a shabby seat that was at some point torn out of a junked car. On his knees is an old and stuttering Hitachi transistor radio. His shack has no windows or door, no furniture, no television. Only torn walls and a leaky tin roof. No electricity, no running water. The flies bother him and the heat is oppressive, but there is nothing he can do about it. From time to time, a child shoves a cigarette into his mouth; Gurab smokes it all the way down and spits the butt onto the floor. Gurab cannot hold a cigarette in his hand: His entire body, from his head down, is paralyzed by a degenerative disease that he came down with as a young man. Thus, he is abandoned on the car seat in the heat for most of the day. Gurab cannot move a muscle. Nothing. He is a quarter of a man.

Gurab lives in Dakika, perhaps the most godforsaken and wretched village in all the West Bank, at the edge of the southern Hebron hills, on the border of the Judean desert. Here he was born 44 years ago. “I would have committed suicide a million times, but religion forbids this,” he says softly.

His elderly mother, along with the flock of village children, try to help him, but how much help can be given to a person in his condition, in a village where there is no electricity and no running water?

Gurab became ill when he was 18 years old, and his condition deteriorated until he was 28. When he sought medical care at Israeli hospitals, the doctors told him he came too late. When he heard this he understood, so he says now, that his fate was sealed. For the past 16 years he has been completely paralyzed.

Now something else has been added to his troubles: the fact that his village is slated for demolition. Hanging over the houses today are 40 demolition orders that the Civil Administration has issued in recent years against a total of 53 structures, including cisterns and even the wretched outdoor bathrooms.

About two and a half years ago, the administration demolished several structures, including a classroom in the tiny school established by the residents. It was January 2011, in the middle of an English lesson. The children were taken out of the classroom, and the Civil Administration bulldozers simply mowed it down. To this day the ruins of the classroom lie next to the yard of the school, for which another demolition order was subsequently issued, along with orders to destroy the village mosque, and the residents’ animal pens and houses, if they can be called houses. The most recent demolition orders were issued this past March: four orders intended to destroy seven structures.

Even here, at the edge of the desert, in a place where there is no Jewish settlement or military fire zone nearby, Israel is threatening to destroy a village on the grounds that it was established illegally on “state land.” Here, too, Israel does not recognize the traditional Bedouin system of allocating lands, ma’adid. The eagerness to expel them apparently derives from the proximity of the village to the Green Line, the pre-Six Day War armistice line. The separation fence that is planned for here but has not yet been erected is slated to split the village in half. For its part, Israel will probably be glad to see the inhabitants of the village scatter in all directions.

Dakika has existed for decades now, after its Bedouin inhabitants were expelled under fire by Israel Defense Forces troops from their original village in 1951, which was located about two kilometers away from here on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Since then they have been living here, on the border, and now they are likely to find themselves expelled from this place, as well. And so these 450 people, among them nearly 100 children, who are living in conditions that are painful to describe, stand to lose even this wretched world.

About three weeks ago, the supreme planning council of the Civil Administration convened to discuss the fate of this village. The nonprofit organization Shomrei Mishpat: Rabbis for Human Rights had decided to provide legal aid on behalf of the inhabitants. The lawyer for RHR, Kamer Mishraki, submitted an independent master plan to the council prepared by Dr. Rassem Khamaisi, of the University of Haifa’s geography and environmental studies department, along with a professional opinion written by social anthropologist Shuli Hartman of the nonprofit organization Bimkom: Planners for Human Rights.

In a 17-page document, Hartman sets forth knowledgeably and in detail the history of the Al-Ka’abna-Farijat tribe to which the inhabitants of Dakika belong, and the injustices it suffered after the establishment of the state, with the loss of two-thirds of its land and most of its water sources. In the report, Hartman emphasizes the villagers’ connection to their town and their land: “The community in Dakika exists in conditions verging on the impossible ... Yet here, despite the limitations, the community has been surviving for decades ... An attempt to enforce their departure will turn the inhabitants of the village into refugees yet again, and crush the existing community, which has a desire and a right to exist,” wrote Hartman in her report.

Now the fate of Dakika remains in limbo, pending a final decision by the Civil Administration’s planning council. Presumably, if the latter nevertheless decides to demolish the village, the case will come before the High Court of Justice, with the assistance of RHR.

This week we drove to the village along with RHR field activists Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia. A bumpy dirt road leads down from the recognized village of Hamayida to the valley where the unrecognized houses of Dakika are located. Despite the difficult conditions, there is a touching effort here on the inhabitants’ part to keep their streets and homes tidy and clean.

Dozens of barefoot, runny-nosed children wearing rags roam around here with nothing to do. Life holds out no chances for them. Now and then, one of the adults shoos them away. Until sixth grade they attend the local school, the same one in which one classroom has already been demolished by the Israeli authorities. Thereafter, they have to trudge to school in Hamayida, about six kilometers in each direction; the dropout rate is thus very high.

Distinguishing between an animal shed and a human dwelling here is difficult. The sheep, the camels, the donkeys and the cats all seek refuge from the heat these days. Precious drinking water arrives here in tanks, now that the cisterns have dried up in the summer sun. The precious few antiquated solar panels do not provide sufficient electricity even to run a television for the disabled Gurab.

Comet, a wonderful Israeli nonprofit that provides residents of the southern Hebron hills with sophisticated equipment − donated by governments and organizations in Europe − used to generate electricity from the sun and the wind, but is not allowed to operate here because of the Civil Administration’s demolition orders. Comet cannot set up electrical facilities in villages facing destruction, as per the conditions of its donors.

When Nawi and Butavia take a few sacks of clothing and toys out of their SUV, which they have collected, the village children swarm over them as though they have found buried treasure. The scene looks like something that could happen in Sudan.

Meanwhile, in his tent, villager Khalil Kurab − known as Abu Ayman − recounts the tribe’s troubles since 1997, when the Civil Administration began harassing them and forbade them to build in the village with iron supports and brick walls.

Abu Ayman: “We want to be a village, with all the rights. We know there are Israelis of good conscience. We would like them to intervene on our behalf and express their opinion, so [the authorities] will understand that it is impossible to expel us again. Even among the top Israelis, there are people who have a heart. We know there is a conscience that will not allow this to happen.”

A searing summer wind blows on the shacks of the village, and the blustery silence is split by the hee-haw of a tethered donkey, its scrawny head hanging low above the dusty ground.

A family in Dakika, whose home is due to be destroyed. Credit: Alex Levac