For 17 Years, This Bedouin Family Lived Behind a Jordan Valley Monastery. Then Israeli Abuse Began

The army expelled the Abu Dahuq family any number of times and now, again, the 30 souls among them have no place to go

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Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived. “Where will I go?” he asks. “Am I supposed to live on top of other people?”
Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived. “Where will I go?” he asks. “Am I supposed to live on top of other people?”Credit: Alex Levac
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac

Here’s how you sweep away a cockroach that’s twitching on its back on the floor: First, you whisk it into the stairwell, then, with another swing of the broom, you cast it out into the yard, probably to its death. The plight of the Abu Dahuqs, a family of Bedouin shepherds from the Jahalin tribe, brings that image rushing to mind. Because that is exactly how the state treats the weakest subjects of the occupation, Bedouin shepherds, in the region the state covets most of all, the Jordan Valley.

The image of the cockroach swept out of the house stuck in my mind during the full day we spent this week with the head of the family, Ibrahim Abu Dahuq, among the rubble of the second tent camp from which his family was expelled in the past few months.

Abu Dahuq, 53, says he no longer has any desire to keep on living. But the 30 or so members of his extended family – his two wives, nine children and the many little grandchildren, whose exact number he doesn’t know – are now taking shelter from the heat of the day in the tents of another Bedouin community. At night they will return to the place from which they were expelled, to sleep out in the open with their sheep, without water or electricity, of course. They have no other choice. They have nowhere to go.

On the way to meet them, we passed through Khan al-Ahmar, the largest and best-known community of Jahalin Bedouin, whose residents have been living with the pervasive fear of demolition and expulsion for several years. A huge Israeli flag, planted two years ago on the arid hilltop opposite the well-tended village, strikes terror into the Bedouin here, heightened by the threatening presence of the Kfar Adumim settlement atop the adjacent hill. From that settlement come the marauders who flood Khan al-Ahmar with sewage, sic dogs on its shepherds, attack its children and sweep wildly into the village in jeeps and all-terrain vehicles to sow fear.

Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived.
Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived. Credit: Eli Atias

Yet unbelievably, Kfar Adumim is also the place from which sprang the amazing, inspirational Friends of the Jahalin group – a group of courageous Israeli human rights activists, among them members of Kfar Adumim and of other settlements in the Jordan Valley. The moving spirit behind the group is Dan Turner, director of the Juliet Keidan Institute of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Prof. Turner lives in Kfar Adumim. When his neighbors in the settlement seize herds of sheep from the Jahalin, he sees to it that the animals are returned to their owners. When someone among the Bedouin needs medical care, this settler-of-a-different stripe vigorously responds.

This week, Turner wanted to ensure that we would wear face masks during our visit to the Abu Dahuq community, out of concern for the 3,000 members of the Jahalin tribe who so far have been unaffected by the coronavirus. When Ibrahim Abu Dahuq was expelled and his tents demolished, Turner and several others from the Friends of the Jahalin immediately demonstrated at the site. He held up a sign bearing a photograph of someone identified only as Abu Ismail from Khan al-Ahmar, with the inscription, “Accord or annexation, without discrimination.”

Twenty-eight families currently live in Khan al-Ahmar, whose school, built from mud and tires, has become a focal point of international interest and solidarity; the threats of expulsion and demolition hanging over the entire community became an issue in the recent Israeli election campaigns.

Eid Jahalin, the impressive spokesman of Khan al-Ahmar, and Yael Moav, a Jerusalem tour guide who is active in the Friends of the Jahalin group, accompanied us on the drive eastward into the Jordan Valley, to the Deir Hajla area. The Abu Dahuq family was evicted from one side to the other of the highway cutting through here, along its southern section, known as the “Gandhi Road” – referring to the nickname of the late Israeli general and cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi (the name derives from his supposed resemblance to the Indian advocate of nonviolent resistance) – as if to preserve his legacy of population transfer.

Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived.
Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived. Credit: Eli Atias

We had barely arrived at the Abu Dahuq encampment when Prof. Turner sent another reminder: “Put on masks.” This wonderful physician’s concern for his neighbors, the Jahalin tribe, is boundless.

Ibrahim Abu Dahuq is sitting on a tattered carpet beneath a scorching-hot tin roof that is propped up by a few wobbly planks and otherwise lacks walls. An easterly wind blows into the shack he erected here after his family’s meager dwellings were destroyed for the second time. This is his home now.

The only other signs of human habitation here are the blackened stove top and a cooking-gas tank in a corner of the lean-to, along with remnants of other dusty, torn carpets on the ground. Two newborn kittens, gaunt and hungry for food, water and love, scurry about, panting from the broiling noontime heat and driven by thirst, trying to lap up even the drops of coffee in the cups we’ve been served. The siren of an Israeli ambulance wails to the north on the Gandhi Road, a few hundred meters from Abu Dahuq’s sanctuary.

Since 2003, Abu Dahuq and his family had lived behind the Greek Orthodox Saint Gerasimos Monastery, on the eastern side of the Gandhi Road. He was compelled to move there from the Nabi Musa area after Israel declared that area a closed military zone. The monastery employed Abu Dahuq as a guard, and in return he was allowed to live on the parched land located behind it, far from the highway, on the way to Israel’s border with Jordan. The extended family has 150 sheep, which are almost its only source of income, apart from the monastery.

Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived.
Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived. Credit: Alex Levac

For 17 years no one interfered with the Abu Dahuqs’ tranquil pastoral life in this harsh desert valley. But one day late last year, representatives of the Israeli military government’s Civil Administration showed up at the remote encampment and left a “note,” in Abu Dahuq’s word. The “note” was written in Hebrew only, a language he doesn’t understand, and he ignored it. A few weeks later, the Civil Administration delivered another note. This time he took it to a lawyer in Jericho, who told him that it was already too late to do anything, he had to vacate the site. When had the first note arrived? Abu Dahuq doesn’t remember – he’ll call his wife to ask. Which wife? He laughs. The new one, Yusra. She remembers that it was on October 30, 2019. The second note arrived in January this year.

At the end of February, Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Civil Administration personnel showed up and confronted Abu Dahuq with two options: Either he would evacuate his family and his belongings from the land on which he had lived for the past 17 years with the permission of the monastery, to which it belongs, or the army would do the evicting and wrecking, and he would be billed for the expulsion and the demolition. He was given a week to clear out. There was nowhere for him to go.

Ibrahim Abu Hallaq this week.
Ibrahim Abu Hallaq this week. Credit: Alex Levac

According to Abu Dahuq, the monastery offered him the option to stay, but he was afraid of the army and decided to evacuate his family and property. He maintains that the man from the Civil Administration told him to move to the west, to the other side of the highway. For its part, the administration denies this, saying they did not tell him where to go, only to clear out.

In the days that followed he started to move his belongings to the western side of the highway, to open land that is adjacent to Jericho’s date groves. It was early March by then, and rains came to the Jordan Valley. Abu Dahuq, using mules and trucks, moved the 10 tents and structures that house him, his family and his livestock, and rebuilt the dwellings on the western side of the highway, in the place where we are now meeting.

In the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, army troops and Civil Administration officials returned, when Abu Dahuq was not home. His wife didn’t understand what they told her – in Hebrew – and they left as abruptly as they had arrived. About three weeks later, at 8 A.M. on a day in late May, or possibly early June, he doesn’t remember, more administration and army forces arrived. Abu Dahuq was still sleeping. The troops ordered his children to wake him up and then they ordered everyone in the family – old and young, women and children – to exit the encampment and stand on the dirt road that surrounds the date groves nearby. They then set about demolishing and confiscating everything.

They took the water containers, his six coolers, the solar panels and the canvas that had covered the shacks. The rest was bulldozed. The heaps of ruins tell the whole story: Tin walls with insulation material in them, a crushed children’s bike, a torn painting, pipes rolling about, and so on.

Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived.
Remains of the encampment in which Ibrahim Abu Hallaq’s extended family lived. Credit: Yaniv Nadav

The Civil Administration people told Abu Dahuq to take his family to Area A (the part of the West Bank under Palestinian control), but he now he asks: “Where will I go? Am I supposed to live on top of other people? There is no place for me there. I have nowhere to go.”

He sent his family to a neighboring community, about an hour’s walk to the west. Until last week that site was accessible by car, but the Palestinian Authority fenced off the area in order to prevent people from leaving Jericho, because of the coronavirus lockdown in the West Bank. Now he’s living here, under the fiery-hot tin roof, and his family joins him with the herd of sheep every night, after an hour’s trek. The IDF shows up every few days, and then the children flee into the date groves in a panic. The forces arrived last Thursday, too, to frighten the family off.

Where will all this end? “I’m fed up with living,” Abu Dahuq replies. “I only want to live like other people. If only I could go back to the monastery,” he shouts at the wind. His youngest child is 2 and a half; his youngest grandson is 2 months old. His aged mother also lives with them. Here’s where her shack stood, here’s the children’s shack, then his, and further along is where his second wife and his first wife, Fatma, used to live. Eight structures now reduced to rubble. Only the carpets remain, torn and dusty.

A spokeswoman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories told Haaretz this week: “On June 3, 2020 (Wednesday), the inspection unit of the Civil Administration carried out enforcement activity involving seven movable [structures] that were erected without the required permits and authorization, at Deir al-Hajla, which is situated in Area C [under Israeli control], in the Jericho region. We wish to emphasize that the enforcement was carried out in accordance with the procedures and also in line with operational considerations.”

We drove to the eastern side of the highway, to the site where the Abu Dahuqs had lived for 17 years without interference. Two golden domes adorn the monastery there, with its well-tended courtyard, desolate now in the days of the coronavirus without any visitors. We follow a dirt path eastward, the houses of the Jordanian village of Shouna loom on the horizon, and there, in a kind of small canyon carved out of the rocks, on the powdery white sand, lay the family homestead. A shattered old television set is perched there opposite the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere, a silent monument.

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