What Happened at This Once-idyllic West Bank Spot Embodies the Israeli Occupation's Evils

As of this week, Israeli authorities have demolished structures in a Palestinian hamlet near the Jordan Rift Valley four times this year. An improvised school and a small swimming pool also fell victim to the bulldozers.

Gideon Levy
Alex Levac
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
The destroyed swimming pool in Khirbet Tana.
The destroyed swimming pool in Khirbet Tana.Credit: Alex Levac
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac

The embodiment of evil is on display in Khirbet Tana. If you want to see evil in its most distilled form, visit the heap of ruins that until two weeks ago was a small swimming pool here. Sheer malevolence and nothing else motivated those who destroyed it. No bureaucratic or legal justification can account for this act of brutality – the destruction of a tiny, unique leisure site in the heart of one of the most spectacular areas of the West Bank, not long after its construction, financed by donations from Palestinian sources. 

With one wall painted bold turquoise and white steps leading into the water, the pool had a very short lifespan. Locals had precious little time in which to enjoy the cool water of the pool that was the size of an enlarged bathtub, like a mikveh (ritual bath), fed by pure, natural spring water. But purity is the last word that comes to mind after what happened here.

Two months after the pool was built, the terminator arrived, in the form of a bulldozer of the Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the West Bank, equipped with all the necessary authorization and rulings, administrative and judicial, all as legal as can be, all by the book – the book of illegal occupation. 

West Bank settlers sometimes take control of Palestinian springs and pools and recreational sites, repair them, assign them Hebrew names and appropriate them for their exclusive use – and no Civil Administration soldier lays a finger on them. But when the Palestinians do something similar, and on their own land, the bulldozers of destruction are quick to arrive. In the apartheid district, only the Jews have rights.

Go to Tana. The route there is lovely, for the most part, especially now, when everything is still green. Cross the city of Nablus from west to east, then traverse the village of Beit Furik in the same direction; take the dirt road that cuts through a smoldering garbage dump and a verdant valley and you arrive in Khirbet Tana, whose tents and tin shacks are planted in a valley surrounded by hills. You have reached your destination. Welcome to the district of maltreatment.

On Thursday, Civil Administration forces showed up again, we were told: Khirbet Tana has now been razed four times since the beginning of this year alone, and it’s only early April.

When we visited this past Monday, administration officer “Roy” was back, taking pictures with his incriminating camera. The locals are well aware of what his landscape photography portends. Like villagers whose homes are perched on the edge of a volcano, they know that destruction will come, that it’s only a matter of time. And like people who live near that volcano, they will probably never leave. People here have clung to their homes since the early 1970s, when Israel declared their privately owned land a military firing zone. Meanwhile, official Israel, too, has clung to its pattern of abuse and maltreatment. 

The ruins of tents and other structures lie along the sides of the dirt road from the successive demolitions, like a recurring natural disaster. Crushed tents, broken pegs, household utensils rendered useless. As with cycles of nature, the people here know that whatever they rebuild will be demolished again. Serial destruction. 

A little puppy is looking for a bit of shade beneath a smashed refrigerator lying in the dirt. How much is that doggy in the dust? Another battered refrigerator is beached next to it. Two horses are grazing in the green meadow, the sheep huddle in a roofless pen. This is the pasturing season. A European Union sticker on the new cream-colored tent that’s been erected here states, “Humanitarian aid and civil protection.” Like in a disaster zone, with the blue flag and the dozen surrounding gold stars; but such a sticker is a useless insurance policy against the next demolition.

On March 23, the authorities demolished 17 homes, 21 livestock pens, five outhouses and the small swimming pool at the bottom of the hill. Four cars – old, gasping jalopies – were confiscated for not having licenses. Here’s how the document that accompanied one confiscation read: “Israel Defense Forces. Civil Administration. Central Unit of Inspection. Goods confiscation no. 01143. 1983 Subaru. Storage of goods: confiscation lot on Mount Scopus. Full name: Yigal. Coordinator.” 

The Civil Administration is also the traffic cop in these parts. Coordinator Yigal doesn’t even bother to give his full name, as the form calls for. The Subaru’s owner, Wassaf Hanani, a 61-year-old shepherd and father of eight, says he will buy a new jalopy instead of paying 2,000 shekels (around $500) to the Civil Administration to get his car released. 

Some 85 souls have been left homeless here. Hanani is wandering among the ruins with only his wife, Huda, to assist him in looking after their flock of 70 sheep. The children are in Beit Furik. It’s cold here at night.

A brief history of the demolitions begins with a firing zone order issued by the military in 1972, at the dawn of the occupation. The residents refused to leave their privately owned land and the punitive measures began. In the early years, the authorities only confiscated sheep and demanded 10 Jordanian dinars for the release of each animal. Afterward the soldiers started to shoot the sheep, then to knock down tents. 

The first full-scale demolition here occurred in 2005, followed by more of the same about every two years. But between December 2010 and March 2011, Israeli forces wreaked destruction six times. A legal battle waged with the aid of Rabbis for Human Rights and the Palestinian Authority elicited a temporary suspension order from the High Court of Justice, but it expired near the end of 2015. Since then the wrecking crews showed up four times, once in February, twice in March and once this week.

This is Firing Zone 905. On the villagers’ land. Have you ever heard of a firing zone on the land of a settlement? According to these residents, the IDF doesn’t actually train here, but across the ridge, about four kilometers away. In the wake of Roy’s visit this week, Wassaf Hanani is thinking about folding up the big tent of the EU before it too is destroyed, and taking up residence with his wife in a smaller tent provided by the International Red Cross. Some local folk have moved into nearby caves following the latest demolition operation.

A spokesperson for the Civil Administration stated, in response to a query from Haaretz: “On [March 23], enforcement was implemented against 26 illegal structures that were erected without a required permit in a firing zone in the region of Khirbet Tana Tahta, this after all the appropriate orders were issued and notifications given to the residents that these were illegal structures before the enforcement was implemented [sic].”

Most of the people here also have a home in Beit Furik, but they have no place there for the sheep – the Khirbet Tana area is their grazing land and habitat in the winter. The flocks of sheep are the sole source of livelihood for the majority. 

Something is visible on the high ridge to the west: Hill 777, an illegal expansion of the settlement of Itamar, where only one family lives. To the east, part of the settlement of Mehora lies on land belonging to residents of Beit Furik, who are not allowed to use the land for pasture; if they approach with their sheep they are chased off. Roosters squawk in the background, and a donkey brays.

On the slope of the hill opposite is an ancient stone structure, a mosque, which the Civil Administration has been careful not to demolish. But the classrooms that were erected next to it were torn down. In their place, a yellow-white tin shack was built as a school for the children, but it too was razed, two weeks ago. 

Escorted by Abed Al-Karim a-Saadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, we drive on the dirt road that crosses the hamlet, and he describes for us what existed before it was razed. An elderly couple, Ifaf Hatataba, 67, and her husband, Radwan, 78, live in a small, dark cave. She is bent over and smiling; he lies on a thin mattress on the ground. We are 90 minutes by car from Tel Aviv. The Israeli military destroyed two tents belonging to this couple last month. Their son is helping them now. Ifaf milks their sheep every day and makes cheese from the output. They pay a shepherd to take the flock to pasture. A kilo of the marvelous sheep-milk cheese – which needs to be left to dry for another few days – costs 18 shekels (about $4). 

Says Radwan, “You who rule us, you should look after us and not expel us. Where do you want us to go? To Libya? To Syria? It’s plain that Israel’s goal is to expel us from here.”

And on the hill across from the mosque are the ruins of the pool. It cost 40,000 shekels to build. Four men are sitting there in the shade of a eucalyptus tree and apparently planning a barbecue. They wash their feet with the spring water that flows through a black plastic hose. They can no longer enter the pool: It’s now a heap of rubble.

Comments