In the Jordan Valley, the Inhuman-yet-human Bulldozers Came at Dawn

A visit to the West Bank village of Khirbet Makhoul, which was demolished this week on the grounds that the houses were built without permits.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

Take a good look at the photograph on this page, by Alex Levac. From out of the ruins of his home, the young man pictured here rescued a pair of white doves and is now trying to save them by offering them water, as his little boy looks on. The demolished remains of their home form the background.

The hamlet of Khirbet Makhoul, in the northern Jordan Valley, is not far from the Jewish settlement of Hemdat and an army base for the Kfir Brigade. The village has been completely demolished. The dozens of tin shacks and animal pens, hay sheds and water trough are no longer. Even the little playground is gone. It all happened early Monday morning, at dawn.

When we arrived at the site a little later that morning, the last of the bulldozers and soldiers, Civil Administration personnel and Border Policemen had already left the area. Near each tin shack stood a shepherd, doing his best to pull the remains of his meager belongings from the ruins. Everything about the scene spoke of both resignation and shock − the same set of emotions I saw in the fishing villages destroyed by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. But there it was a natural disaster, and here it was the actions of human beings, actions of the sort that fill the pages of the journal of Israeli occupation.

Silence reigned here. It was not even violated by the field workers of the human rights organizations, the handful of representatives of international aid organizations or the Palestinian Authority officials who had arrived on site. In a muffled voice, the downtrodden shepherds told anyone who cared to listen about what had befallen them and their property only a few hours earlier.

Everything is legal, of course. All of the demolition orders for houses built without permits are legal; even the Supreme Court confirmed the demolitions. Everything was thoroughly legal, done in accordance with the laws of the occupation.

Look at the homes of the surrounding settlements, look at their verdant fields, some of which are on private land − and you will understand. Look at the heaps
of dirt piled up along the length of the roads of the Jordan Valley, with the aim of suffocating these residents − and you will understand. Look at the infinite number of concrete blocks adorned with “firing zone” warnings that are placed next to every tent − and you will understand. Look at the undeclared policy in this remote area − and you will understand.

Here, far under the public’s radar, a systematic expulsion is underway.

Very early Sunday morning, at about 3 A.M., shepherd Burhan Basharat was awakened in his shack; a neighbor had spotted bulldozers on the road. It would be another two hours or so until the Israel Defense Forces bulldozers moved up the dirt road that leads to this shepherds’ village. Two hours later, not a trace of it would be left.

Basharat is a young man who wears a kaffiyeh around his neck, his face scorched by the sun. He is standing by the remains of his hut, which is higher up the hillside. He isn’t speaking. “This is a tough blow,” he whispers toward me. Basharat has eight young children.

Flocks of sheep are left shepherd-less. Even worse, they lack even the slightest bit of shade or even a drop of water in the burning Jordan Valley heat. A veterinarian working on behalf of the aid organization Oxfam, who was rushed to the scene, is trying to save the livestock that were left without a pen. Representatives of the International Red Cross have also arrived. A few sheep are milling around beneath the ruins, and hundreds more are standing behind them. Only the strong will survive here. Those are the rules of the game.

The residents’ livelihood depends on their sheep, and that is now at risk. Ahmed al-Assad, the deputy governor of Tubas, and Aref Daraghmeh, the head of the al-Malih council, estimate the damage caused to the 12 families who live here at NIS 500,000. They promise that the PA will enlist in the effort to rebuild the village.

A young child breaks down in tears; his father attempts to calm him. When he grows up, he will remember these events. He and his friends’ wretched playground lays in ruins. Elderly shepherd Mahmud Basharat says the residents did not try to oppose the demolition. “What could we do? If you do anything,” he says, “they’ll kill you.”

His friend, the shepherd Khalaf bin-Oudeh, offers assurances that they will rebuild the village: “The soldiers told us, ‘Get out of here. This land belongs to the State of Israel. If you stay here, we’ll come back in another 10 days.’ I asked the soldiers’ officer to give me a note saying that he demolished it. He told us, ‘I can’t give you anything. Go away.’ But we will not go away. Whatever happens, happens.

“Will anyone leave his home? Whom would we give it to? To soldiers? They have three army bases around here. To settlers? They have three settlements around here. I want to ask this: Is there a law in Israel that permits something like this to happen? Is there a law in Israel that can do this kind of thing to us, as if we are not human beings? I worked in Israel and I know. This doesn’t happen in Israel.”

The two elderly shepherds say they have lived here for about 25 years and that it is their land. A water tanker appears from the direction of the main road. Bin-Oudeh tries to pick up what was, until this morning, the tin ceiling of his home, in order to extricate a few household objects. He, too, is not a young man and has a hard time raising the steel poles from the pile of debris. A battery whose label reads “Batteries produced in Israel” − the only source of energy here − rolls on the ground, near an old Nordmende television set.

The following day, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued the following response to our request for information: “The structures in question are unlawful and were built without construction permits. The structures were demolished in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rejection on August 28, 2013, of the petition that had been filed against their demolition.”

Trying to save doves after IDF demolition at Khirbet Makhoul in Jordan Valley.Credit: Alex Levac

Click the alert icon to follow topics: