Dusk descended; in a moment the valley would be blanketed by darkness. For a fleeting moment, the white smoke curling up from the taboon mingled with the black smoke disgorged by the bulldozer. It was an optical illusion: a few dozen meters separated the oven from the armored bulldozer. Bread was baking in the taboon, the machine was demolishing fields of wheat. The scenes blended into a surrealistic image.
Indigent farmers living in medieval conditions, without running water and without electricity, in the cold of the Jordan Valley winter, gazed forlornly at the machinery of destruction that had rumbled across their fields that morning in order to flatten them. They had done their plowing and sowing under unbelievable conditions. Every few weeks, the Israel Defense Forces swooped in to tear down their tents, confiscate their tractors and cars, smash the solar panels and water containers, and to expel them for a day or two until the latest training exercise in their fields concluded. The farmers were used to that. What choice do they have? There is no resistance here, they are the weakest of the weak, their only hope here is to extract bread from the good earth.
But what happened on Monday of this week was something new for them. Hundreds of dunams of cultivated land were crushed under the treads of the Israel Destruction Forces’ tanks, wheat fields became terrain for military maneuvers, furrows became flatland, and the fertile soil became a training ground. Five hundred dunams (125 acres), maybe more, of loam soil that had been planted and tended, from which buds were already peeking out, turning the earth green, were reduced to a wasteland. The soil was heaped up for use as tank ramps.
The vision was hard to bear. A bulldozer thundered back and forth, not missing a furrow, crushing the grain and the fodder, leaving destruction and desolation in its wake as it moved forward. The driver is hidden behind the armored grille, unseen. What goes through his mind as he does his contemptible job? What does he think about as he lays waste the land? Does he love the soil he is ravaging? The beautiful land he is ruining? Its inhabitants, workers of this soil for generations? There’s no evidence that these are questions that occupy his thoughts.
His soldier buddies stood next to the fields, by the side of their armored vehicles, with a smiling, tranquil demeanor. One officer had brought his son, saying he was celebrating his birthday here. The soldiers were also not aggressive toward the local people who dared approach the tanks under our auspices. Only when one of the farmers raised a hand hesitantly in a V gesture at the soldiers was he ordered to move off.
The soldiers didn’t even try to prevent a photographer from taking pictures. Maybe they’re not ashamed of their deeds. A few of them wore large kippot, one or two spoke Arabic. They weren’t from the Kfir Brigade or from the Border Police, which tyrannize the Palestinians. They were from the Armored and Engineering Corps, and they found themselves here in order to train for yesterday’s wars, which will probably never be fought, and they’re going about it on land they were told to prepare for the mission. Maybe the crops will grow back. Maybe, as Dorit Tzameret wrote in a different context in the lovely song rendered by Chava Alberstein: “It’s not the same old house now, it’s not the same old valley, / You’re gone and never can return again. / The path, the boulevard, a skyward eagle tarries… / And yet the wheat still grows again” (translation by Elli Sacks).
An eagle wings across the sky, but it’s unlikely that wheat will grow here again. In the meantime, the metal treads slash the brown earth. A crushed water container lies derelict by the side of the fields. The black cloud that rises from the bulldozer whenever it advances looks like a metaphorical black flag flying over it. Blacker than black. What do these soldiers tell their families when they get back from their mission? That they had a good day, contributed to the country and its security by destroying crops?
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Ibzik, in the northern Jordan Valley. A community of shepherds who have lived here for years, close to the security fence. A long, winding dirt trail ascends here, but few of the residents have a car, because the Civil Administration confiscates their vehicles. Along with all their farming equipment. The view is especially striking at this time of the year. The plowed fields are already stained with green, amid the soil’s bold brown-red and the verdant buds.
But the devastation is already visible on the road to the village: fields brutalized by tank treads. The closer we get to the tent compound of the Turkman family, the more galling the sight becomes. Here it’s no longer fields across which tanks just passed; here it’s bulldozers that are ripping up the planted soil in order to build “ramps,” as they refer to the mounds created to conceal the tanks that will arrive at night. The bulldozer levels the ground, the scoop piling up the earth into another ramp. On the Gaza Strip border, the IDF poisons fields from the air, at the Jordan Valley border, the IDF uproots fields.
Incredibly, the atmosphere is pastoral, insanely pastoral. The villagers don’t even think about resisting. They’re sitting on plastic chairs at the entrances to the tents that have not yet been torn down, sipping marvelous sweet tea and gazing wordlessly at their vanishing crops. For a moment it feels as though a film is being shot here. The sheep are just now returning from grazing. The farmers have 800 sheep between them, and the fields were intended mainly to grow crops for their fodder. The remains of the previous round of destruction are all around – hardest to bear of all are the solar panels that were crushed, the only source of electricity here. So there’s no running water and no electric power. So what. They will remain here and maybe the wheat will grow again. It’s hard to imagine a more forceful acceptance of fate than the sight of these farmers.
It all happened on Monday; it all started long before. This is the home of the families of Mohammed Turkman, 58, and of his cousin, Adel Turkman, 46. Eight souls who are here for nine months of the year. In the other three months, from mid-May until mid-August, they drift north with the sheep to the Jenin area, because there’s no pastureland left here. The land is privately owned, by families from the town of Tubas, to the west. The Turkmans work the land, but this is Area C – under full Israeli control – so they are not permitted to build anything.
Last month, on December 5, the Civil Administration again distributed expulsion orders: “Warning about mandatory temporary evacuation from a closed area.” In the past few months they have been required to evacuate their tents seven times so that the IDF could train in the area. The procedure stipulates that they have to leave by 8 A.M. and can return at 3 A.M. the following day. Families, with children and sheep, on foot in the cold, find shelter in the tents of relatives in the area. About 60 people live in the hamlet and they all need to leave. The last time they were ordered out was on December 27. It was a particularly cold day. Aref Daraghmeh, the Jordan Valley field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, who is also deputy head of the Palestinian Northern Jordan Valley Council, was with them that day, as he continues to document all their ordeals.
With every evacuation, they are afraid, he says. Afraid of what will happen to their property, what will happen to the sheep, afraid of the tanks and of the ammunition duds the army is liable to leave behind, afraid for their fate.
When they returned, before dawn on December 28, they found that some of the tents were wrecked. When dawn broke they saw dozens of tanks and armored vehicles still in the area. The International Red Cross provided a few tents. No new orders are needed to demolish again, because it’s already a demolished zone.
“You will come, we will go; you will go, we will come back,” the locals tell the army. They have nowhere to go with their sheep. This past Sunday, January 2, they were ordered to leave again. But by midday, the army had not arrived, and they stayed. Later, the troops arrived and the residents left, only to return before dawn the next day. There was shelling in the area, they relate. At daylight on Monday, they saw what they had never seen before. “War,” Daraghmeh says. The bulldozers arrived and proceeded to trample their fields.
This week, Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit about the destruction of the crops, and also whether the IDF also conducts training exercises in the fields of the outlaw farms and outposts of settlers in the Jordan Valley. The following response, which ignores the question of settler outposts, was received: “The area in question is designated as a firing zone, and is used regularly for IDF exercises. Accordingly, the area is designated as a closed military zone, and civilians are forbidden entry without a permit. During the past week an exercise was held in the area of the Jordan Valley Brigade, and in its framework, army forces trained there.”
The unit of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories gave Haaretz the following statement: “On December 28, 2021, the inspection unit of the Civil Administration carried out enforcement activity against two tent compounds that were erected illegally, without the required permits and authorizations, in Firing Zone 900 in the Jordan Valley region. The Civil Administration contacted the residents living in the place illegally, and explained that being present in firing zones endangers their lives and is not legal. The enforcement operation was carried out in accordance with powers and procedures, and also according to operational considerations.”
Night falls. It’s dark and cold. The area is dotted with the lights of military vehicles moving back and forth. The bulldozers’ lights are also on, as they continue building ramps in the dark. The children and the women are huddled in the tents, in which there is now no light at all since the army destroyed the solar panels; the men go on watching the bulldozers through the darkness. Soon they will build a bonfire to ward off the cold a little.