On Tuesday the residents of the Palestinian community in Khirbet Ras al-Ahmar in Tubas in the northern the Jordan Valley will have to collect their children, their sheep and goats, their food, their water containers and their other possessions and evacuate their place of residence so that the Israel Defense Forces can train at the site. They received the evacuation order a few days ago. The last time the residents of this community of shepherds was required to evacuate their location due to IDF live-fire exercises was almost five months ago. At the time, they were forced to leave on three consecutive days, during most hours of the day.
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At the end of January, they were also required to leave twice for the day due to the Israeli army’s training exercises on the site of their community, about four kilometers east of the town of Tamun. The community existed long before the IDF declared it a firing zone. But in 2015, the army evacuated it temporarily eight times in order to conduct its training exercises.
In total, according to B’Tselem, since the beginning of this year the IDF has forced 67 Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley to evacuate their communities due to training exercises it conducted on their land – whether for several hours in one day, or for most of the day on consecutive days.
On October 9 there was no evacuation, but rather a massive demolition that the Civil Administration, with a heavy military escort, conducted at Khirbet Ras al-Ahmar: The bulldozers demolished 10 residential buildings as well as 17 sheep pens and chicken runs belonging to nine families. Seven of the residential buildings were inhabited at the time of the demolition, and 24 people lost their homes within minutes.
Last week the broad plain was still full of crushed corrugated metal, torn sheets of fabric, iron poles, fragments of trees and crates. Many members of the community were forced to leave because of the demolition. A few remained to tend the herd and take it to pasture.
That wasn’t the end. On September 27 the forces raided the tent encampment of the Ayoub family of shepherds in Tel al Hema in the northern Jordan Valley. About 18 constructions were demolished, including six residential shacks, six sheep pens and a solar panel – and the 25 family members lost the roof over their heads.
The demolition was carried out a few days after a group of Israelis built an illegal and unauthorized outpost nearby, and began to prevent the members of the Ayoub family from advancing with their sheep and goats to a hill above the encampment – their usual grazing area. In recent days those same Israelis are busy moving the outpost’s buildings from the foot of the hill to the top.
Since the beginning of the year the IDF and Civil Administration have carried out 35 destructive raids in the Jordan Valley. The reasoning: construction without a permit from the Civil Administration (which in any case doesn’t give construction permits to Palestinians in Area C, whether because it didn’t include them in the master plan it prepared for the settlements, or because their residential area was declared a military training zone).
In the whole of Area C, the administration has destroyed 780 Palestinian structures since the start of the year – compared to 453 in 2015 – arguing that they were built without permits. The number of people who have lost their homes as a result of the demolition activity amounts to 1,129, compared to 580 last year.
East Jerusalem has also seen increased destruction: 125 Palestinian structures have been destroyed there by the municipality and the Interior Ministry since the start of the year, compared to 78 last year. As a result, 164 Palestinians have lost the roofs over their heads, compared to 108 in 2015.
From the beginning of the year until October 9, some 2,000 people in the Jordan Valley have been affected by demolitions, according to estimates by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. That figure is particularly high because the targets of three IDF operations have included water networks to several communities in the valley.
On January 14, Israeli forces destroyed a 200-cubic-meter water reservoir in KHirbet Yinon. The reservoir would have provided household and agricultural water for some 500 people.
On October 8, the target was a 3,500-cubic-meter network of water pipes in Khirbet Yarza. The forces confiscated about 1,000 meters of pipes and dismantled others. The network was intended to provide water to some 900 people in at least five agricultural communities in the near future.
On October 10, in a raid on the agricultural community of Jiftlik, the target was a water pipe connecting three agricultural communities. Some 500 meters were damaged in the action and 250 people were affected.
In other raids, water supply equipment on a smaller scale was damaged or destroyed. Two water tanks in Beit Dajan were damaged in a demolition operation on February 4; a five-cubic-meter tank was destroyed by Israeli forces and a plastic water tank was damaged in al-Farsiyeh on February 11; four plastic tanks were destroyed in a raid on the Bedouin community of Ma’arajat (north-west of Jericho) on August 4; a well was destroyed during the demolition of a house in the village of Duma on August 17 and a water tank was damaged in Ras al-Ahmar on October 9.
On October 13, during the course of an IDF training operation in the Lifjim grazing area belonging to the residents of Akraba village, two water mobile tanks and three plastic tanks were pierced by bullets.
Nor have the IDF and Civil Administration spared mobile toilets. In the course of 35 raids, they confiscated or destroyed 19 toilet structures. Three of those destroyed belonged to the Ayoub family in the Khalet Hamed community of shepherds.
No more privacy
“The women among you will especially understand the extent to which that destruction makes life difficult,” said Dafna Banai, a member of Machsom Watch who has been active in the Jordan Valley for over a decade.
When the space in which you live is increasingly narrowed by the expansion of settlements and military exercises, there is no longer the privacy that once enabled the maintenance of hygiene in field conditions, she explained. The necessary alternative is toilet cubicles built at a distance of a few dozen meters from the encampment – and now even those have been destroyed.
Banai addressed a group of about 20 Israeli women and men from different organizations who visited the area last Tuesday. The intention is not to establish a new organization, said Udi Gur from Combatants for Peace, but to coordinate activities.
In a call on people to join the tour, Banai, Gur and Guy Hirschfeld of Ta’ayush wrote: “In light of the unprecedented wave of demolitions and the mounting pressure on the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley, we decided to join forces and act together against the government’s policy to cleanse Area C of its Palestinian population.”
Immediately on their arrival at the demolition site of Khalet Hamed, the activists ascended the hill that until recently had been grazing ground for the flocks of the Ayoub family and is on its way to becoming an outpost. There, they found about 15 young Israelis, including children, a water tank, a big wooden hut (which had been moved from the original site of the outpost at the bottom of the hill,) a water pipe running downwards from the top of the hill, a tractor, a covered pen, plastic chairs and sofas (which had previously been at the original site.)
Earlier, officers of the coordination and liaison administration and civil administration inspectors had been there.
“We gave them stop-work orders,” the head of the Civil Administration told Haaretz, but added that the status of the land needed to be checked. In other words, until it is determined that the area is classified as “state land,” the Israeli authorities aren’t even going to pretend that they are getting rid of the invaders.
And as it happened, the youths continued to organize the outpost as a home in Israel the minute the officers had left.
Beneath an awning erected between the remains of the Ayoub family’s encampment sat veteran left-wing activists Amos Gvirtz, Arik Ascherman, Yaakov Manor and Banai, who explained Israel’s tactics of expulsion to the youth: firing areas, blocking access to water sources, forbidding building, demolitions.
“Israel’s entire discourse about what is going in the valley and in Area C is a lie,” Gvirtz said. “They present it as law enforcement. They present war crimes as if they were law enforcement.”
There were young people there with a high degree of awareness of environmental problems and with faith that through direct talks with the settlers, the settlers could be convinced not to cause harm to the Palestinian shepherds. One of these young people actually heard from the settlers that it is currently very difficult to find land on which to settle and acknowledging that they had no permission to carry out construction, “but it’s in process,” he said.
Mustafa Fukaha, the council head of the nearby village of Ein al-Brida, who also owns land at Khalet Hamed, welcomed the Israeli visitors and described how all the oppressive Israeli actions are thinning the local population. Not all of them can bear the constant shortage of water, shrinking size of land for grazing, expropriations, evacuations for army weapons training and unemployment.
A representative of the Tubas district, Ma’ataz Bisharat, also spoke. “Every Palestinian child thinks that all Israelis are out to harm them and all the Palestinians, that they are the enemy,” he said. “And here, you are the proof that there are other Israelis who support justice.”
There were other Palestinians there from the area who had suffered multiple demolitions. There were people from the Israeli organization Peace Now who plan to use the information to make people aware of what is happening, and members of the American Jewish group All That’s Left, who plan to involve Jewish groups in the United States and relieve the Jordan Valley from its invisibility, as one of them deemed it. And there were also members of the organization Machsom Watch, the anti-occupation women’s group, and of Ta’ayush who collect information from the field on a daily basis.
At one point in the discussion, a jeep from the settlement of Mehola sped into the area of the destroyed tent encampment, something that is not a rare occurrence. On previous nights, all-terrain vehicles had come thought the site en route to the hill. And a few days before, a jeep, perhaps the same one, drove right into a flock of livestock.
The shy smile and dark face of the host, Abu Rasmi Ayoub, did not conceal his concern that the authorities and settlers would take revenge on him for hosting the Israeli activists. One of the settlers, he said, had already said they would allow a neighboring shepherd family access for its flock, but not that of the Ayoub family.
The Civil Administration’s total demolition of the tent encampment was carried out shortly after members of the Jewish-Arab organization Ta’ayush had begun to accompany the Ayoub family to the grazing land. His sons told him they had begun to pester them before the Israeli activists arrived. Abu Rasmi nodded, but his eyes revealed the extent of his concern over the future.
In fact, later a soldier in a jeep showed up, Abu Rasmi said, and informed him that the family had two hours to knock down the makeshift tents that they had erected following the encampment’s demolition.