Imagine to yourselves that on the eve of a holiday you are suddenly hit with an order to vacate your home for 22 hours, during which time, you are expected to sleep outside under the stars, in the desert. That is what happened this week to dozens of Bedouin inhabitants of the northern West Bank, near the Jordan Valley.
The Israel Defense Forces would never evict the neighbors here − residents of the settlements or outposts − because of an impending military exercise, sending them to sleep outside. When it comes to Bedouin or Palestinians, however, this is done routinely: According to data from the human rights group B’Tselem, there have been 20 such temporary evictions in the area during the past year alone because of military maneuvers, with the IDF ostensibly having nowhere else to train except among these peoples’ homes.
When we are talking about Id al-Adha, which was on Tuesday, the holiest day of the year for Muslims − a special callousness is required. Did the IDF’s intelligence sources not know about the holiday? Did the Civil Administration, whose staff brought the residents word of the eviction, also not know it was the Feast of the Sacrifice? Or maybe they knew, but simply didn’t care?
A day after the order was delivered, a few hours before it was to go into effect, someone in the IDF came to his senses and the IDF Spokesman’s Office announced the decision to postpone the eviction. The office announced that the two communities affected would not be vacated, but one of the locales, Al-Burj, would be required, despite the reassuring announcement, to vacate its homes the following day, the day of the feast.
The Taysir checkpoint, which is near the two communities’ homes, was closed to residents on the holiday for about four hours. For the residents of Ibzik and Al-Burj, the holiday was no longer much of a holiday. When we visited them this week, on the eve of the holiday, a few hours before their expected eviction, they were busy getting organized to clear out. They were only informed of the postponement just before it was to happen.
The dirt road to the tiny village of Ibzik is long and bumpy, leading from the town of Tubas northward, and cutting through fields, orchards, hills and primordial landscape, alongside which stand the residents’ tents and other living quarters and relatively tidy animal pens. The Civil Administration has not allowed the locals to pave an asphalt road here. After they tried once, their trucks were impounded.
At the northern end of this dirt road − which ends at the separation barrier, with the homes of Beit She’an visible on the horizon − among the hills, is Ibzik. Seven families live here now. On the way there this past Monday, in the eastern neighborhoods of Nablus, shepherds stood selling sheep for the feast day’s ritual sacrifice out of trucks. In Tubas, nearby, people were busy buying clothes, food and gifts for the holiday.
The squills have withered already, the olive harvest is in full swing, and in Ibzik they were planning their most sacred holiday, the night on which they would set out with their children, wives and elders, along with their livestock, and move some 10 kilometers away from their homes, to enable the IDF to train in their fields.
“We stopped saying we have a holiday,” said the village mukhtar, Imad Harub, with a sad smile.
It was late morning, and the eviction was scheduled for 5 P.M., right at the time of the prayer service preceding the holiday meal. A day earlier, this past Sunday, at 8:30 A.M., a white Civil Administration jeep entered the compound. “Yigal” and “Avi” delivered the news: eviction lasting from Monday at 5 P.M. until 3 P.M. the next day.
Where were they to go? Yigal and Avi did not even bother this time to bring a signed order, and merely told the residents that this was what would happen. The residents tried explaining to the two men that it was a holiday, but Avi said the decision came from higher up and could not be questioned.
The inhabitants planned to decamp to the lands near the village of Raba, where they would spend the night and the following day. They also knew they would have to take their livestock with them; it could not be left behind in an area where the IDF was training with tanks. They also worried about ammunition duds being left in the area after the exercise, lest they harm their children, as has happened in the past.
What will you do? I asked them. Travel by tractor in the direction of Raba, the flocks following, and sleep outside there under night sky − came the answer. They planned to set out before 5 P.M., before the soldiers begin evicting them, in hope of arriving before dark. Fifty-five people, including two disabled persons and 32 children, and with them nearly 2,000 sheep and about 30 cows in a silent march on the road to nowhere.
The holiday meal was a moot point. Attending prayers at mosques in the area was also out of the question: The men would not abandon the women, children and livestock alone in the field. They are already experienced in these sorts of evictions, having been ordered some 10 times before to vacate their homes because of IDF exercises − although until now, never on a holiday.
Smiling and optimistic, they said they were glad it did not rain, at least. During their previous eviction, about a year ago, the rain came pouring down. It will be cold at night, I say to them.
“True, we do not know what to do,” says the mukhtar, Harub. “Anyone who has a tractor-trailer will cover the trailer with plastic sheeting and go to sleep. Whoever doesn’t have one − I don’t know what he is going to do.”
It is well into the breeding season, and the villagers are afraid for the lambs that might be born along the way or in their temporary sleeping place under the stars. Harub relates that he dreamed at night about the eviction, awoke in horror and told his wife, who declared: “It’s not a dream. It’s what is going to happen to us.”
They had planned to visit families on the holiday, pay their respects to the young couples who wed in the past year, and pray, slaughter sheep and hold the holiday feast. Now everything is cancelled. Regardless, they have no
electricity, no running water, and not even solar electricity devices of the sort other
villages have. Nevertheless, their little village is fairly well kept; the women assiduously sweep the sand floors of the tents with twig brooms.
“That’s the occupation,” says Arif Daraghmah, head of the local council for Al-Maliah and the Bedouin communities in the northern Jordan Valley, who escorted us to the place. “There’s nowhere else in the territories where the IDF can train, only in the village?”
Another resident adds: “They deliberately look for the best time to hurt the residents, at the time of the holiday.”
While we were sitting there, Daraghmah received more news: The nine families that live in the Al-Burj compound, not far from here, had also received an eviction order, effective from 5 A.M. until 9 A.M. on the day of the holiday. Only later, after we’d left, did news of the postponement come.
But the next day, on the holiday itself, the residents of Al-Burj were nonetheless compelled to vacate their homes, despite the IDF Spokesman’s announcement. Their lovely part of the country filled with the sounds of whistling bullets and exploding ammunition.
The IDF is training. Happy holiday.
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