A Short Drive From Tel Aviv, Hundreds Live Without Power or Water

The blistering heat hasn't stopped Israel from abusing Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley and destroying their property and meager livelihoods. This week the authorities confiscated precious solar panels, decimated dirt roads and uprooted groves there

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Salim Abu Tayeb and the blocks on which his eight solar panels stood. Two months ago GVC, an Italian NGO, had given the panels to him so his home could have electricity.
Salim Abu Tayeb and the blocks on which his eight solar panels stood. Two months ago GVC, an Italian NGO, had given the panels to him so his home could have electricity.

The supply of electrical power is prohibited, by order. The only means for providing energy to cool food and drinking water – which are both in extremely short supply here – in the scorching August heat of the Jordan Valley, has been confiscated by force. Hookups to the electrical power grid and to the water supply infrastructure is prohibited. Construction is not allowed, pasturing animals is not allowed. In short, life is banned here. It would be better if Israel were finally to issue some sort of “stoppage-of-life” order for all the Palestinians in this valley, instead of having the Civil Administration, which is part of the military government in the occupied territories, going through all the bureaucratic acrobatics to achieve the same noble goal.

This past Sunday, for example, administration personnel carried out a joint operation with Israel Defense Forces troops to confiscate eight solar panels from the yard outside the home of Salim Abu Tayeb, a farmer in the remote village of Khirbet Yarza. The notice he was issued minutes before the equipment was commandeered – to the effect that the forces had come “to stop destruction of antiquities” that apparently exist in the area – was particularly amusing this time: The solar panels, meant to provide Abu Tayeb and his family with a modicum of electrical energy, were apparently causing the destruction of antiquities at some abandoned archaeological site. But there is nothing amusing in the occupied northern part of the valley, a place where apartheid looms on every hill, where illegal settlements are lushly green from the water they enjoy – and where ancient Palestinian villages, like Yarza, are literally withering.

Thus, about an hour and a half from the center of Israel, in 2021, hundreds of people are living in the blazing heat of the Jordan Valley without electric power or a minimal supply of water. After European NGOs, backed by funding from European taxpayers, mobilize to provide these individuals with solar panels to allow production of at least some electricity for home use – the Civil Administration shows up and confiscates the panels by force, as though they were its private property or were prohibited firearms. The aim is appallingly transparent: to embitter the lives of these Palestinians who, like their forebears, were born here, until they will be unable to endure any more and will leave. Then the ethnic cleansing will be complete. Which will facilitate the region’s annexation by Israel.

A momentary success was chalked up for Israel in recent weeks in this area. After the homes and tents in the village of Khirbet Humsa were demolished in early July for the third time in a year, its approximately 80 inhabitants, members of 13 families, have not yet returned yet. Have they given up? Surrendered? Very unlikely. Probably they will return in the fall. They simply have nowhere else to go and no way to subsist except from working these lands, some of which are private property but all of which are owned by Palestinians.

The dirt road through the fields of Atouf that was destroyed this week.

The Palestinian agriculture one sees in the remote fields of the northwestern Jordan Valley is quite surprising: modern, advanced, with well-tended crops and groves, hothouses and other equipment. It’s a spectacular sight – you won’t find Palestinian fields like these anywhere in the West Bank. Imagine: Cultivating crops without using Thai workers – there still is such a thing in the Land of Israel, but only in the Palestinian part of this valley. Yet here, too, where Israeli settlements are relatively far from the eye, the Civil Administration is not loosening its vicious iron grip, and its political purpose is obvious. The ethnic cleansing is encroaching here, too.

The fields of Khirbet Atouf. A single dirt road leads to this village, west of the main Jordan Valley highway. Israel does not allow such locales to pave their roads, because that might make their life easier. Even IDF units training in the area use the dirt road the locals created here. This week the troops were there for a tank exercise. At 7 A.M. Monday, other forces arrived: A stream of army and Civil Administration vehicles made its way along the unpaved access road to Atouf, two huge yellow bulldozers leading the charge. The vehicles stopped halfway up the road that ascends westward to the village. A new dirt road that the farmers dug through their fields – 1.5 kilometers long and turning off from the other road – to facilitate their work, is considered illegal by the illegal occupation regime. The bulldozers were brought in to demolish it. In less than two hours they dug it up, overturned the soil and rendered the road unusable. When we got there, nothing remained of it. The abutting fields of za’atar, eggplants, onions and fennel were dried out under the hot sun.

“What bothers them [the Israelis] about this road?” asks Aaref Daraghmeh, the head of the regional council in the Palestinian part of the northern Jordan Valley, who also works as a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. We have met him near the fields later on in the day.

“They want to dry out the fields. They don’t want the Palestinians to have even a little satisfaction. This is not a firing zone and not a closed military area, not a nature reserve and not an archaeological site – so why did they demolish it? When they arrived in the morning, I asked Avi, from the Civil Administration, why they were doing this. Avi said: ‘You need a permit to build a road.’ Who gave the settlers a permit?

“There are six new settler outposts that appeared here just in the past three years that have no legal authorization,” Daraghmeh continues. “Now the settlers have a new method. They bring in cattle and sheep and say: Wherever the livestock go, is ours. And that way they take over huge areas. Sometimes I think they will reach Jordan like that, if their cattle will go to Jordan. Every day there are new settlers. Lately they started to bring in very young settlers. They tell them: These are your lands. They bring in all-terrain vehicles and dogs, and the lands become theirs. But our big problem is that the army always sides with the settlers.”

Olive trees that were cut down in the village of Bardala.

Earlier on Monday, the fields of Atouf had looked like a battlefield, invaded by the land-clearing equipment and army forces. Video footage that the field researcher took shows a bulldozer destroying the route through the fields. “What is this war about? Over what? Because you [Israelis] want to erect a tent for your child? Seriously, are we talking about putting up a tent in Tel Aviv?”

Daraghmeh relates that on one occasion shepherds from Samra, in the same vicinity, had complained about the settlers’ takeover of their land – and the complainants were detained for a day before being released.

Civil Administration forces also uprooted 15-year-old olive trees, some 120 of them, in the village of Bardala, on Monday.

We drive on a long dirt road to the village of Yarza, which was almost completely demolished by Israel after the Six-Day War. The rubble of stones that once were homes are still strewn on the ground there. More than 100 families lived here until 1967; now only 13 of them remain, living in wretched tents and tin huts. The results of previous acts of demolition by the Civil Administration are still apparent here in the form of parts of huts and tattered remnants of tents.

From a plastic envelope, to protect it from tearing, Abu Tayeb pulls out the confusing document he received from the confiscators of the solar panels on Sunday: “Notice to cease destroying antiquities. Immediate cessation of work, solar panels and laying of water pipes.” Part of the document is in illegible handwriting, and the signature is a nonsensical scribble. The confiscators have no name and no address.

Donkeys in the Jordan Valley.

Around two months ago, GVC, a nonprofit Italian humanitarian aid group, provided eight solar panels to Abu Tayeb, who lives here with his wife and two children and his mother. Five other panels donated by GVC were confiscated from his neighbor. The concrete blocks on top of which the panels were erected are now barren, and of course there’s no electricity. The sign of another international aid organization that fights hunger hangs on the wall of the hut. The forces that had arrived here the day before, we were told, had brought wagons hitched to their jeeps, on which they loaded their booty.

The response of the spokesperson of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories this week: “On August 15, 2021, enforcement actions were carried out against solar installations that were erected illegally in the village of Khirbet Yarza, in the Jenin area. In the framework of those activities unlawfully installed equipment was confiscated. Additionally, on August 16, 2021 enforcement actions were taken against a road that was illegally paved without the requisite permits, in Khirbet Atouf in the Jordan Valley. Upon conclusion of these activities, and according to procedure, confiscation orders were issued relating to all items that had been confiscated. Enforcement actions are conducted in accordance with the proper authorities and procedures, as are other such actions routinely carried out in Judea and Samaria – in order to prevent illegal construction and to maintain law and order in those areas.”

Abu Tayeb, 54, wears a tattered black T-shirt with the word “Security” inscribed, in English, in the front and the back. When we arrived at his home he was lying on a sofa in the shaded entrance, seeking some relief from the sun. His herd of sheep also huddled in the shade, while two young mares chewed their cud. He has also been served with a demolition order for the fence he’s built around his olive grove. The barrier is prohibited. It’s probably doing damage to some antiquities.

Abu Tayeb tells us that every morning when he wakes up, he looks around to see whether the army and the Civil Administration are once again on their way to him.

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