Three times his house has been demolished. The last time, a few weeks ago, he tried resisting. Less than two weeks later, Border Police personnel who identified him traveling in a taxi, dragged him out of the vehicle, shoved him up against it, held his hands behind his back and proceeded to punch him.
The beating went on for a quarter of an hour, he says; he absorbed blows all over his body, but the kind that leave no visible marks. Every so often, when a car passed by, the officers let up, so no one would see them working the man over. This was their revenge for his pushing and shouting when forces of the Civil Administration, an arm of the Israeli military government in the territories, came to level his home yet again. This week he and his family were hard at work again, trying to rebuild it.
Jaber Dababsi isn’t going anywhere. And being pummeled by the police won’t change that.
Khallet al-Daba, aka Hyena Hill – so named for the hyenas that still roam about here – is on the edge of the desert in the South Hebron Hills. A small, remote village, accessible only by a tortuous dirt road, it is a collection of homes scattered across the hills, on privately owned Palestinian land in Area C (i.e., under Israeli civil and security control) of the West Bank. But only Jews are permitted to build here, on this Palestinian soil. Meanwhile, not far away, a settlement called Maon, and Havat Maon, a settler outpost, are growing and encroaching with frightening speed. Plus there’s also the new neighborhood of large homes in Carmel, another nearby settlement.
Only the indigenous people, the farmers who were born here – they or their forebears – are forbidden to live on their land. The 75 structures of Khallet al-Daba, currently home to 15 extended families with their children and sheep, are designated for demolition. The homes of both the Dababsi brothers, Jaber and Aamar, have already been razed three times, and the fourth is certainly just a matter of time. Their grandfather was known as the “grandfather of the hyenas,” back when more of the animals could be seen here, long before the settlers arrived and Israel dispossessed the native Palestinians.
Jaber, 34, who is married to Asama, and the father of four children, is a muscular, solidly built man whose spirit does not seem to have been broken by the blows of Border Police personnel on the road. His village is well kept, almost touchingly so, despite the harsh, arid, rock-strewn terrain on which it’s perched. The residents have planted decorative trees as well as olive groves and wheat. Jaber’s home stood on top of a cave, in which his wife and children are now sheltering, until their home is rebuilt.
We were here in September 2019, after the last time his home was demolished. Fourteen months later, on November 25, the Israelis returned. It was a particularly bountiful day for the Civil Administration’s wrecking crew. The devastation they caused was wide-ranging and left 44 people homeless in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills, the two main targets of the operation to cleanse the Palestinian lands of their inhabitants.
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According to data of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, published at the end of last month, 2020 was an especially dark year in that respect: As of then, 919 Palestinians, among them more than 400 children, lost their homes in the West Bank – more than double the 2018 figure.
The icing on the cake was November 25: Demolitions were carried out in both the valley and the hills, and Jaber Dababsi’s home was among those that the troops lay waste to. On that day, 44 Palestinians, about half of them children, were made homeless.
It was about 9:30 A.M. Jaber tells us that he was helping his brother Aamar put the final touches on the interior of his home, which had been demolished about a year earlier. Suddenly he noticed a convoy of vehicles and heavy machinery grinding up the slope of the hill toward Khallet al-Daba. Earlier that morning a message had been disseminated via the regional WhatsApp group to the effect that demolitions were underway in the neighboring cave community, Al Mufaqara. But the brothers didn’t imagine that the wreckers would show up that day at their home, because no demolition orders had been received.
It turns out that a single, initial order is enough for the occupation forces to destroy your home a second, third and fourth time – or at any future time, in fact. When the convoy entered his village, Jaber was certain they were only passing through, on their way to a different locale. But the vehicles stopped in their tracks.
Civil Administration personnel ordered the family to leave their home immediately. After the second demolition, Jaber had built a dwelling of about 90 square meters (970 sq. ft.) on the ruins of his previous home, with assistance aid from a French humanitarian nonprofit called Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development. The wreckers didn’t allow them to remove anything from the house; Jaber says that in any case he would not have taken anything out, because that would be equivalent to collaborating with the wreckers. The family had no choice but to abandon their home.
For his part, Aamar stood on the hillside and began singing national songs. A Border Police officer told him to shut up, and a confrontation ensued. In the previous demolition, Aamar had been wounded and was hospitalized. Now his brother intervened and began to push the Border Police officers, cursing and shouting at them. Hearing their commander order his arrest, Jaber fled into the valley.
The demolition crew was in a hurry. They still had another job – to destroy the water system in nearby Jimba – and time was short. It took about two hours to raze Jaber’s house. It was reduced to a heap of ruins, which was still there this week, a mute monument.
In the meantime, Nasser Nawaj’ah, a regional field researcher of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, arrived at the scene from the neighboring village of A-Tuwani. In the white tent erected next to the rubble, he told us this week in his own special Hebrew what he saw that day.
“It was sad,” he said. “Jaber simply seemed to disappear. He didn’t know what to do. He was like someone whose child was taken away, or a person who has witnessed someone close to their heart die before their eyes. There are no words to describe these things. Jaber was silent for a few minutes and then he started yelling. Suddenly he seemed to come alive and began shouting; they were the shouts of someone who is hurting, of someone sad. This is his home. He said many things. Why are you demolishing my house? And the Border Police told him to be quiet and get out. He refused. He said to them: This is my home. Maybe he pushed someone so he could go inside. And after that his house was reduced to a heap.”
That night, after his return, Jaber slept under the open skies; his family was in the cave. The next day he began rebuilding his house. Because where else could he go?
The unit of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories this week told Haaretz: “On 25/11/2020 the inspection unit of the Civil Administration carried out enforcement activity against a structure that was built illegally, without the required permits and authorizations, in a firing zone in the South Hebron Hills. Similarly, on 06/11/2019, enforcement activity was carried out against an illegal structure that was built in the same place, by the same owner. Such activity against the rest of the illegal structures in the area will be carried out in accordance with the order of priorities and operational considerations, and are also subject to the conclusion of administrative and legal processes in this affair.”
About two weeks later, on December 7, Jaber was on his way to shop in the Palestinian village of Karmil, about six kilometers from his home. He got a ride there with a friend and took a taxi back home. At about 3:30 P.M., a white Savana van suddenly blocked the road. Two armed Border Police officers emerged from it. Nawaj’ah, the field researcher, had seen the van patrolling along nearby Highway 317 earlier, driving back and forth, stopping Palestinian cars. Now they stopped the taxi on the road exiting Karmil, which leads to Highway 317.
One of the officers asked to see the driver’s papers, and then noticed the passenger sitting next to him. Bingo. It was the guy who had resisted the demolition of his house two weeks before. “That’s him,” one of the officers said. Jaber relates that they confirmed that it was really him by checking a photo on their phones that had been taken when they had razed his home. He, too, remembered them from that day.
“You were a man’s man then, let’s see you now,” they said, then dragged him out of the taxi, positioning him behind it. One of the officers seized his arms and twisted them behind his back, and two others started to punch him, being careful not to hit him in the face; they let up when a car passed. Jaber recalls that the Border Police filmed the event.
He says was pummeled for about a quarter of an hour. Then they ordered him to get back into the taxi and to leave immediately – or they would smash the vehicle. One of them push him into the car with a kick. He could barely keep upright as he was being beaten and the next day he could barely stand up and the pains got worse. They passed after two days. He didn’t go to a clinic or a hospital. He’s a strong man.
Suddenly the people in the tent where we are talking break into laughter. Musa Abu Hashhash, another B’Tselem field researcher, says the situation is so sad that all they can do is laugh.
The Israel Police provided the following statement to Haaretz: “An initial examination shows that no violence was used on the suspect, and that the details [you provided] are untrue. In the course of an ongoing security action in the area, the fighters stopped a car for an inspection near Yata, both the passengers and car in question were checked, and a short while later were released and sent on their way. The inspection was conducted without connection to the suspect’s identity or past record, but any complaint made about the behavior of the fighters will, as is fitting, be checked by the appropriate authorities.”
Jaber’s father-in-law, Abdullah Dababsi, 57, is laying down the concrete floor of the new home of his daughter and her family. Jaber’s boys, Rithan, who’s 6, and 4-year-old Rishan are their grandpa’s construction crew. They also helped to build when we were here in September 2019. They’ve seen their home destroyed several times during their short lives.