News from the Jordan Valley, same pattern as in South Hebron: “Clear-n-Flip”

(crossposted from assaf.dailykos.com)

One frustrating aspect of I-P news is the ease of providing distractions. The high-level tussles over Iran and settlement expansion, while important, steal the attention from events on the ground. Even more frustrating, the Israeli government sends “feel-good” stories about how life is getting better for West Bank Palestinians, and amazingly some people believe it.

Meanwhile, sweeping changes of much larger magnitude occur on the ground, hidden in plain sight.

Here’s Daphne Banai, a Villages Group and Machsom Watch activist (#3 from a list of 5 similar items):

Stop Escalation in the Campaign for the Expulsion of Palestinian Nomads in the Jordan Valley

… 3. On the morning of the 4/06/09 Israeli Army bulldozers and troops arrived at Ras el Ahmar in the Jordan valley and destroyed different structures belonging to a total of 18 families- 13 housing structures, 19 livestock structures and 18 underground ovens. In addition one tractor, one water tank and one wheel cart were confiscated. Previous to the demolition five families relocated on their own account for fear of coming demolitions. A total of a 150 people were displaced, including 67 children.

This is a small sample of what the IDF and govt. are doing in the open areas of the West Bank; details below.

Background: The Open Areas, Oslo, and “Area C” Designation

Some parts of the West Bank are heavily populated, esp. the area around Jerusalem. Other parts, most of them semi-arid or desert, are much more sparse. This includes the Jordan Valley and Judean Desert – which are the north and south parts of the West Bank’s eastern strip – and South Hebron Hills – which lies at the West Bank’s very south.

In the map on the West Bank Wikipedia page, the Jordan Valley takes up most of the Jericho and Tubas districts – a very large area. The Israeli govt. has had its eyes on this region every since 1967, and placed settlers – not necessarily of the wingnut type – in there throughout the years. Yet, even not counting the city of Jericho, the valley’s rural and nomad Palestinian/Bedouin population outnumbers valle settlers by nearly 15 to 1.

Under the 1990’s Oslo accords, 60% of the West Bank was designated “area C”, to remain under full Israeli control. This status was clearly intended to be temporary, with the vast majority of lands becoming part of a Palestinian state. However, after an initial hesitation the Israeli establishment has come to view this “temporary” status as permanent, and treat “area C” as a full-fledged part of Israel – except, that is, for giving rights to “area C” Palestinian residents.

How many Palestinian residents are there in “area C”? According to same Wikipedia page, 4% of West Bank population, which amounts to well over 100,000. Of them, about 60,000 are in the Jordan Valley (not counting Jericho enclave).

As can be seen, for example here, apart from the Jericho enclave all of the Jordan Valley is “area C”.

They find themselves with the unique privileges, e.g., of having to apply for construction permits to Israeli authorities called “the Civil Administration”. Here’s Daphne Banai again:

On the 31/05/09 five families from Al Hadidye were served with demolition orders and 7 more families (a total of 105 persons) were served with work stoppage orders, soon to be followed with demolition orders. Their lawyer has appealed and received an injunction until the next hearing on their case on the 25/06/09. The hearing will be conducted by a committee headed by Marco Ben Shabat: a settler.

These committees manned by settlers is the rule rather than the exception. The outcome of such “hearings” is a foregone conclusion: 94% of “area C” Palestinian permit-requests are denied, while the vast majority of Jewish settler permits sail through.

The Great Land “Clear and Flip” System

Besides the 150 residents of Ras El Ahmar and Al Hadidye, Daphne Banai mentions a whole string of Jordan-Valley hamlets and nomad-dwellings under assault:

On the 26/03/09 the residents of Arkuv Akraba were served with military orders demanding their immediate evacuation from “a closed zone”.

… On the 17/06/09 Israeli army bulldozers and troops arrived at Ein El Hilwe where they proceeded to destroy the tent dwellings and livestock structures of two families- a total of 20 people. The estimated damage is of 20,000 NIS.

The same day the Israeli army destroyed the tent dwellings, livestock structures and 3 water tanks of three families thereby demolishing all of Arkub Akraba, a nomadic tent cluster. A total of 28 persons, including 18 children, were displaced.

… 4. From 21/05/09 to 30/05/09 the Israeli army performed daily incursions, searching the tent dwellings of Hadidye. On one occasion armed forces shot sound bombs into the sheep pen. The residents lodged a complaint before the civil administration officer in charge of the area and showed him the sound bombs. (source: OCHA)
5. Over the last few weeks many young men from the area, including a 13 year old child, have been arrested by the security officers of the Roi and Bekaot settlements. Charges included- trespassing, theft of ammunitions, damaging the water pipes of the settlements. In all cases the arrested were detained for 2-8 days and later released. No charges were brought forward.

If you don’t see a pattern here, recall that Ezra Nawi’s court case was about trying to stop a home demolition in Umm Al-Kheir, a Bedouin village in the South Hebron Hills:

Umm Al-Kheir is being encroached upon by the Karmel settlement, set up in the 1980’s and continually expanding (“naturally”, I suppose). So it stands in the way, and therefore its water wells are being damaged, etc.

Other villages in the South Hebron Hills suffer similar treatment.

Back to the Jordan Valley: the developments there attracted Gideon Levy’s attention.

In the past few weeks, another 32 new eviction notices were distributed to 300 more souls. According to Fathi Hadirath, coordinator of the Jordan Rift Valley Solidarity organization, Israel’s policy has taken a sharp turn for the worse. Since January 2006, the valley has been cut off from the rest of the occupation zones in the West Bank, and only registered residents of the area are allowed entry. Even landowners who lack a permanent home in the valley are barred from accessing their land. Farmers have difficulty getting their produce out and thousands of dunams of land have been closed off as “firing zones.”

The dozens of concrete cubes placed in the valley over the past two weeks suggest that worse is still to come. Hadirath is convinced that the cubes will be followed by checkpoints which will prevent entry to and exit from the tent compounds completely. Israel’s policy, he says, is to herd all the shepherds into five villages, five “settlement blocs,” if you will – except that the population density in these villages is already intolerable. Since 1967, Israel has not allowed even one new home to be built there.

A case in point is Bardalla, the largest of the five villages, where 2,300 people live on just 500 dunams (125 acres). In Zabidath, next to the settlement of Argaman, the residents wanted to build a playground for the village’s 500 children, but Israel would not authorize the project. There is no room in these villages for the new refugees Israel seeks to create, and in any event the expulsion of the 15,000 shepherds from their land will permanently deprive them of their sole source of revenue. Hadirath believes that underlying the evacuation is an ambitious Israeli political plan to “cleanse” the Rift Valley – which constitutes a third of the territory of the West Bank and is home to 56,000 Palestinians – of most of its inhabitants. This will be easier than evacuating one Jewish settler outpost.

Hadirath, who speaks of behalf of a local association, has good precedents to rely upon. It works like this:

1. The military clears out villages, nomad housing, farmland or grazing land – for “security” purposes, of course
2. The locals attempt to resist and usually go to court – where they are almost always defeated. This provides a “seal of approval” to the process.
3. After a while, the land is flipped over to civilian authorities, who fund the construction of housing for Jewish-Israeli civilians there.

This system has been in effect since 1948 even inside Israel proper. For example, a very nice piece of real estate in the middle of the Galilee was confiscated in the 1950’s. In the early 1960’s, the state set up there the Jewish “development town” of Karmiel.

In 1956, about 1,275 acres (5.16 km2) of land in the Israeli Arab villages of Deir al-Asad, Bi’ina and Nahf were declared “closed areas” by Israeli authorities. This area, near the main road between Acre and Safed, had been an important marble quarrying site. In 1961, the Israeli authorities expropriated the land to build Karmiel.

….In 1964, when local Arabs applied for permission to move into the town, Minister of Housing Yosef Almogi replied that “Karmiel was not built to solve the problems for the people in the surrounding area.” In February 1965, 400 protesters marched from Tel Aviv to protest against “discrimination of a group of our citizens”. Representatives went to a local police station, informing the police that they were staying in the area without permission. Eventually the perceived leaders were arrested and tried before a military tribunal

In the West Bank, where Palestinians are under military rule without rights, makes the process as easy as taking candy from a baby; for example, Maale Adumim the largest West Bank settlement was built upon land from which the Jahalin Bedouins were cleared.

The only thing delaying the process is pesky activists (whether Palestinian or Jewish or international) who intervene and make noise.

If the world pays too much attention for too long – that’s pretty much the only chance to kill a “clear and flip” process.

Perhaps this is why the Israeli justice ministry describes Ezra Nawi’s activism thus: (pdf link)

Mr. Nawi arrives every week to southern Mount Hebron area…

During these weekly occurences, Mr. Nawi provokes the local residents.

(what a shame: the attorney signed on this travesty of a response is called Assaf)

Finally

The “clear and flip” land-grab system is unfortunately ingrained into the Israeli establishment mindset. In the West Bank’s vast open areas, the temptation for the govt. and IDF to do so seems unbearable.

Note that this is not about Bibi or “right” vs. “left”. The system was born under Labor governments, and processes to clear out open-area dwellers have continued unabated as governments changed.

This is what I meant when recently replying in a comment that the Israeli cabinet and Knesset tussles have become to a large degree a circus that distracts from the real events on the ground.

So, are we going to make noise?

If you’d like to help, contact Daphne directly.

For more information :

ybanai (at) netvision “dot” net.il

Daphne banai

—- below: Daphne’s full letter.

Urgent Call

Stop Escalation in the Campaign for the Expulsion of Palestinian Nomads in the Jordan Valley

    Israeli forces renew harassment of local tribes in order to expel them
  1. On 29/05/09 dozens of concrete blocks were erected throughout the Jordan Valley declaring different areas military firing zones, prohibiting passage (photos attached). The signs have been placed next to Palestinian tent dwellings, agricultural areas of Jewish settlements and in one case next to a gate in Palestinian use under army authorization (Gohiya gate).
  2. On the 26/03/09 the residents of Arkuv Akraba were served with military orders demanding their immediate evacuation from “a closed zone”.
    On the 31/05/09 five families from Al Hadidye were served with demolition orders and 7 more families (a total of 105 persons) were served with work stoppage orders, soon to be followed with demolition orders. Their lawyer has appealed and received an injunction until the next hearing on their case on the 25/06/09. The hearing will be conducted by a committee headed by Marco Ben Shabat: a settler.
  1. On the morning of the 4/06/09 Israeli Army bulldozers and troops arrived at Ras el Ahmar in the Jordan valley and destroyed different structures belonging to a total of 18 families- 13 housing structures, 19 livestock structures and 18 underground ovens. In addition one tractor, one water tank and one wheel cart were confiscated. Previous to the demolition five families relocated on their own account for fear of coming demolitions. A total of a 150 people were displaced, including 67 children.
    On the 17/06/09 Israeli army bulldozers and troops arrived at Ein El Hilwe where they proceeded to destroy the tent dwellings and livestock structures of two families- a total of 20 people. The estimated damage is of 20,000 NIS.
    The same day the Israeli army destroyed the tent dwellings, livestock structures and 3 water tanks of three families thereby demolishing all of Arkub Akraba, a nomadic tent cluster. A total of 28 persons, including 18 children, were displaced.
  1. From 21/05/09 to 30/05/09 the Israeli army performed daily incursions, searching the tent dwellings of Hadidye. On one occasion armed forces shot sound bombs into the sheep pen. The residents lodged a complaint before the civil administration officer in charge of the area and showed him the sound bombs. (source: OCHA)
  2. Over the last few weeks many young men from the area, including a 13 year old child, have been arrested by the security officers of the Roi and Bekaot settlements. Charges included- trespassing, theft of ammunitions, damaging the water pipes of the settlements. In all cases the arrested were detained for 2-8 days and later released. No charges were brought forward.

Background

The Jordan Valley is home to some 55,000 Palestinians and 6,000 registered Jewish settlers (actual number is estimated at 4,000). The Jordan Valley constitutes the only link between the occupied West Bank and the rest of the world (through Jordan).

Since its occupation in 1967, Israel has imposed a special policy on this area in an attempt to isolate it from the rest of the West Bank for future annexation. In order to do so, special movement restrictions have been imposed on the Jordan Valley restricting travel to and from the rest of the West Bank, in addition to regular restrictions which apply to the entire West Bank.

All movement between the West Bank and the Jordan Valley is monitored through several military checkpoints, while most of the roads have been blocked.

Only cars of registered residents of the Jordan Valley are allowed to drive on Jordan Valley roads.

The area is rich in water. As is the practice in the rest of the Occupied West Bank, Israel has taken over all the water resources. Most of it (about 90%) is allotted to Jewish settlements, and the remaining 10%, is allotted to the Palestinian residents. The amount is insufficient and residents are left to suffer dry summers.

Most Palestinian residents reside in the town of Jericho and several other small villages. In addition, there are many shepherd tent dwellers. These people are not original nomads. Their origin is in Palestinian villages in the West Bank (Tamun, Tubas, and southern Mount Hebron), where they used to reside during the summer coming to the area only during the winter in order to herd their livestock. Some continue the practice, while others have been permanent residents since 1967 for fear they will not be allowed to return. They reside on lands belonging to Palestinians from Tamun and Tubas to whom they pay rent. They have no access to local water wells, who have been taken over by Israel , and bring their water in water tanks attached to tractors, from other Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

The story of Al Hadidye

    The tribe of Al Hadidye, one of the tribes who dwell in the area (162 persons, including 81 children) have been permanent residents in the area long before 1967 – their chief was born there in the 50’s and the Historian Nazmi Ju’aba states that they gradually settled in the area hundreds of years ago. The residents subsist through their livestock and own about 4,000 heads of cattle. The area was designated an agricultural zone by the British mandate. Order 1970, clause 90 states that permanent residents may remain in the area, and expulsion orders may not change their status. In 1970 El Hadidiye was declared a closed military zone, yet in 1978, on the very same land, the Jewish settlement of Roi was founded. Ever since 1997 they have been facing continuous home demolitions. Attempts through the courts to prevent the demolitions and consequent expulsions (including appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court), have been rejected. The reason stated: they are not permanent residents, but nomads. Indeed the residents move periodically, but they move within a radius of one kilometer and always on the lands of Hadidiye. They have never willfully left the zone. In 1997, 2004, 2007 and March of 2008 the army demolished their tents, livestock structures, tin sheds and expelled them.
    On December of 2006 the appeal of several families facing demolition orders was rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that they constitute a security risk to the neighboring settlement of Roi.
    Since then 13- 14 families have already left the area, sold their livestock, abandoned their traditional way of life and moved to the villages of Atuf or Tamun.
    The residents of Al Hadidiye have no need for financial aid despite their harsh conditions. They only ask to be able to continue to live on the same land they have been living since long before the area was ever occupied by Israel, and they ask to reopen the water well on their land, which Israel has blocked.
    For more information :
    Daphne banai
    MachsomWatch
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