Otherwise Occupied |

To Demolish Palestinian Villages in the Name of Parity

We won’t deny it: We have a dream, for the honorable judges to tell the state: It stops here.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Sheep grazing in Khirbet Tana, where the IDf demolished 49 structures on January 3, 2017.
Sheep grazing in the Palestinian village of Khirbet Tana, where the IDF demolished 49 structures on January 3, 2017.
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

On Sunday the state asked the High Court of Justice to approve the demolition of two shepherds’ villages in the northern Jordan Valley, Umm Jamal and Ein al-Hilweh. This time, the state based its demand on the principle of parity: parity with Jewish settlers. A demarcation order was issued in 2003 against the piratical settlement outposts? So now we intend to apply it to Palestinians. 

It’s only logical, right? Parity, equality under the law, is a fundamental principle in Jewish tradition, so we were taught.

A brief recap: On November 9, 2017, residents of the villages discovered an “order regarding unauthorized buildings, a declaration of delimited land,” dated November 1 and signed by Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, then chief of the army’s Central Command. The order instructed the removal of all property from the area within eight days. In practice, it implied the demolition of all structures in the defined area and the expulsion of 300 women, children and men together with their livestock. 

Tawfiq Jabarin, the attorney who represents the communities in the Jordan Valley, submitted to the military authorities an objection to the demolition/eviction/expulsion, and petitioned the High Court when that avenue failed to yield results. It is this petition that justices Daphne Barak-Erez, Uzi Vogelman and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut heard on Sunday.

We won’t deny it: We have a dream, for the honorable judges to tell the state: It stops here. We shall not lend a hand to the eradication of this ancient and sustainable way of life, of communities of shepherds who are deeply attached to their rural and adjacent urban environment, but who live and sustain themselves in the wider surroundings. They are a part of the natural Palestinian human mosaic. Please let’s respect it, and we shall comply with the international law prohibiting their displacement by dint of belonging to a population under occupation.

The original purpose of the demarcation order from 2003 was to fight the piratical unauthorized settlement outposts established by Israelis in the West Bank. We made you laugh? You’re right, seeing as the outposts are flourishing and multiplying. (Two of them, for instance, are right next to Ein al-Hilweh.) Who can even remember the last time a demarcation order was issued against an outpost?

Roi Shweiki, a senior attorney in the division of the State Prosecutor’s Office that deals with petitions to the High Court, remembers only too well. In a response to Jabarin’s petition, he explains that due to the need to maintain public order, in 2015 it was decided to amend the order so that it also applied to Palestinians. Long live symmetry in the state of the Jews, as follows: Yossi Doe from Ra’anana comes along and gets a settlement built for him in the West Bank – and the public order is upheld. Yusuf Doe lives his entire life between Tubas and Bardala, say, and is told he must leave his home. That too is considered the upholding of public order.

The reliance on the principle of parity, or symmetry, between Palestinians and settlers is a new and interesting choice. Up to now, when the state asked the High Court to sanction its lust for destroying Palestinian buildings and villages, it was on pretexts that were the opposite of the principle of parity. For example: The state razed the village of Sussia in its original site, and seeks to raze Khirbet Zanuta, because they were built on archaelogical sites. Incidentally, on April 10 Israel’s Civil Administration tore down a school in Zanuta, just days after the right-wing Regavim organization sent army officers a memorandum about the terrible crime of the school’s existence.

In contrast, the state is developing the Jewish settlement in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood and in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, which also lay within archaeological sites. And as the Kerem Navot organization tells us, the Harsha outpost was established in the late 1990s on a hill that is part of the Palestinian village of Al-Mazraa al-Qibliya, west of Ramallah. A few years earlier, the Civil Administration declared the hill an archaeological site. Incidentally, Regavim director Yehuda Eliyahu lives there.

Then there’s the firing-zone argument, the excuse the state uses in seeking to raze at least eight villages southeast of Yatta and many others, such as villages in the Jordan Valley like Khirbet Tana and Al-Aqabah and some of the Bedouin villages that are candidates for forcible relocation. The fact that their inhabitants have lived in them since before 1967, or before 1948, doesn’t matter to us. But the outposts of the (illegal but authorized) Itamar settlement thrive in Firing Zone 904A. They get whitewashed.

The sudden appeal to the principle of parity is interesting. For years, when the High Court was asked not to approve the demolition of Palestinian homes, the justices were urged to pay heed to the ongoing disregard of this principle. It’s common knowledge that myriad master plans have been drawn up for new Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Flesh-and-blood members of the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Committee drafted them. 

But these same individuals, in the same institutions, shrugged their shoulders, rolled their eyes heavenward and lost the power of their hands when asked why they didn’t issue building permits in Palestinian communities established prior to 1967 or 1948. “Because there’s no master plan” for them, the clerks/officers in the Civil Administrative said, as if a master plan was handed down at Mount Sinai, and only to the Chosen People. Symmetry disappeared here, and the justices of the Supreme Court fell silent.

We won’t deny it: We have a dream, that the justices will instruct the state, as a first step, not to expel the residents of Umm Jamal and Ein al-Hilweh. And then, as a second step, to allow communities to draw up master plans that take into consideration the rich Palestinian human mosaic. The third step? In our next dream.

Postscript: In Sunday’s hearing, the judges seemed to understand Jabarin’s concern that the order will be used to forcibly dislocate most Palestinian communities from Area C in the West Bank. They instructed the state to respond within 45 days to their queries on the matter.  

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