Friday, December 15, 2017

Unprecedented wave of demolitions in first week of 2017 targets Palestinian village for the 12th time

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By Sarah Bedson - January 14, 2017
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Section: [Main News] [In Pictures] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [demolition] [Area C]

Khirbet Tana - 2016 marked an unprecedented number of West Bank demolitions and displacement since OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) records began in 2009. Throughout the course of the year, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 1,089 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, displacing 1,593 Palestinians and affecting the livelihoods of another 7,101. Nevertheless, the first week of 2017 shows Israel’s determination to top previous figures, with the number of Palestinian structures targeted being over three times as high as the 2016 weekly average.

Khirbet Tana is a remote Palestinian village nestled in a valley east of Beit Furik in the Nablus governorate. Approximately 250 residents live there in a variety of makeshift and permanent structures including tents and caves, beside steel structures for their cattle. This community, dotted across the hillside, has existed in the area for decades, relying on herding and agriculture for their livelihood. The majority of the people here also have a home in Beit Furik, but as there is no land for their sheep there, the Khirbet Tana region remains both their grazing area and winter habitat.
 
At 7am on Tuesday the 3rd of January, three Israeli bulldozers and ten military vehicles rolled into the village, unannounced, for the twelfth time since 2005. They subsequently razed 49 structures belonging to 14 families, six being homes. 29 people, 15 of them minors, were left homeless. “I was so frightened. They didn’t even talk to us, they destroyed everything and left”, a mother from the village, Salma Hanini, stated. She also explained how their car had been stolen by an Israeli soldier during the raid, just like their previous car in 2016. “They put a military jeep in the road to create a flying checkpoint and didn’t let anybody in or out – not even journalists,” Salma said.
 
Wasif Hanini described how they always pay attention to the weather forecast because demolitions usually occur during poor weather. “They know that if the lambs are out in the cold, they will die,” he said. Sure enough, on Tuesday morning, it was raining.
 
In the Oslo Accords zoning scheme of 1994, 60 per cent of the West Bank, including Khirbet Tana, was deemed Area C – under full Israeli control. Palestinians are prohibited from building on 70 per cent of Area C, with the Israeli Civil Administration citing various rationales such as defining the land as state land; survey land; firing zones; nature reserves; natural parks; or by incorporating lands into the jurisdiction of settlements and legal councils. In the remaining 30 per cent of Area C, Palestinians still face challenges in obtaining building permits. The Israeli Civil Administration has avoided approving any master plan at all for over 90 per cent of the villages located entirely in Area C, approving master plans for only 16 villages, equating to 0.5 percent of Area C.
 
Meanwhile, according to a 2015 report by Israeli rights group Yesh Din approximately a quarter of the then 100 unauthorised Israeli outposts in the West Bank have either been, or are in the process of being, retroactively approved. In addition, the Knesset recently gave initial approval to a new controversial bill that would legalise 4,000 settlement homes, illegal under Israeli and international law.
 
Nearby on the hilltops of Khirbet Tana, within the boundaries of the firing zone, there are two such outposts, which were established in recent years without a permit or danger of demolition. “They [the settlers] have access to water, electricity, all services, while we cannot even repair our dirt track,” said Wasif.
 
In 1972, the site of Khirbet Tana was declared a “firing zone” for Israeli military training purposes, rendering it impossible for residents to obtain building permits. Approximately 18 per cent of the West Bank has been declared as “firing zones” by the Israeli authorities. However, according to OCHA, recent research shows that nearly 80 per cent of these areas are no longer used for military training.
 
Residents of “firing zones” are some of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank, having their access to basic service infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity, greatly impeded. In Khirbet Tana, two local springs are used for water.
 
Speaking with some of the residents following the recent demolitions, they expressed their exasperation with their situation. “Generation after generation we have lived here,” Wasif said. “Where are we supposed to go? Why should we leave? This is our land,” he added.
 
The village was demolished for the first time in 2005, when Israeli bulldozers razed 14 homes, 18 animal sheds and 6 animal stores to the ground, leaving only the ancient mosque standing. Between December 2010 and March 2011, Israeli forces wreaked such destruction six times altogether. Additionally, over the course of 2016, the village was demolished four more times. “They kill our sheep, they arrest our shepherds, they issue fines to us for building without permits”, Wasif said. The sole school has been destroyed on several occasions, including a school constructed as a project funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). On Tuesday morning, the freshly-constructed school was issued a demolition notice.
 
Palestinian human rights organisation Badil affirms that under international law, Israel, as the occupying power in the Palestinian territories, is “strictly prohibited from forcibly transferring the civilian population of an occupied territory”. Moreover, as the occupying power, Israel has an obligation to “exercise its powers under all circumstances for the benefit of the occupied area”. Expelling residents from their homes as well as imposing living conditions that undermine their source of livelihood would seem to be a clear breach of this duty.  
 
Some even argue that the demolitions constitute a crime against humanity, as “the deportation or forcible transfer of population” is actually listed in the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute.
 
The residents of Khirbet Tana remain resolute. In just over a week following the incursion, many of their structures had been re-erected and village life was seemingly back to normal.
 
Despite their tenacity, the repeated waves of demolition carried out by the Israeli authorities make it extremely difficult for Khirbet Tana residents to achieve any degree of stability in their lives or livelihoods. Given the repeated demolition of the village school, their children’s education is regularly interrupted.
 
Khirbet Tana is not alone in this respect. Indeed, in the first week of January alone, Israeli authorities destroyed or seized 86 structures in Area C and East Jerusalem on the grounds of the lack of building permits, leaving 160 Palestinians including 91 children without homes and affecting the livelihoods of over 370 others. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the 8th of January attack, the Israeli authorities demolished four structures in the Jabal al Mukabber area of East Jerusalem, and issued warning notices against dozens of homes belonging to relatives of the perpetrator, citing lack of building permits.
 
Prime Minister of the state of Palestine Dr. Rami Hamdallah has condemned the continuing demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli occupation forces, stating: “these demolitions are an integral part of the systematic and institutionalized colonial regime that sustains Israeli occupation and works towards making it permanent. We call on the international community to honor its commitment to international law and Palestinian rights and condemn this unlawful and grave action.”

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