House demolitions force Palestinians from village

Haj Azmi with Israeli-issued orders to stop building the village clinic (in background). (Shabtai Gold/IRIN)


BEQAA, WEST BANK, 19 February (IRIN) - A small, overcrowded Palestinian village in the southern West Bank, under threat from Israeli-conducted house demolitions and land confiscations, is rapidly becoming poorer.

“Every house here has one child at least who left because we can’t build new homes. Some went to Hebron, but others left for Amman [Jordan] and places abroad” said Ghassan, a young man from Beqaa village, who is a refugee registered with the UN.

Bilal Jaber, who recently received papers saying his house was illegal, is worried it will be destroyed.

“I saved money when I worked as a laborer to build my home,” the now unemployed man said. “If the Israelis destroy it, I can’t rebuild.”

He said he would probably have to move to the old city of Hebron, where the Palestinian Authority provides free housing in an attempt to stop Israeli settlement expansion, though living conditions there are tough.

Beqaa, outside Hebron, was founded in 1973 by Palestinians, including refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Most left the city as it became overcrowded, but the new village is now also overloaded, since there are only about 55 homes for over 1,800 people. Around 20 other homes have been demolished in the last 12 years by the Israeli authorities, according to residents and the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a non-governmental organization (NGO) orking in the area.

Furthermore, three water cisterns have been destroyed, and in late 2007 a demolition order was issued against a fourth well. The village also continues to lose farmland.

“My family has lost 20-25 dunams [20-25 square kilometers] of land in recent years, because of the settlements,” Muhammed Kamal Jaber, also a refugee, told IRIN.

Demolitions began in 1980s

The demolitions and expropriations began in the 1980s when the settlement of Kiryat Arba started to expand.

“Before the 1980s my father had 200 sheep. But he had to sell the sheep because we weren’t allowed to build pens. When we lost the land we had to sell more sheep because we could not grow fodder any more,” Muhammed said, adding that now he has none left.

A decline in the village’s income comes as previous aid efforts by international organizations have slowly diminished, residents say — paradoxically, just as their need for assistance increased.

“If you used to get by on 2,000 shekels [US$540] a month, now you need 2,500” because of inflation, said Ghassan. “But really most families only manage to make 1,500 at most. So we will need help.”

“My father never needed aid. He was a shepherd. If we had jobs we wouldn’t need anything,” added Muhammed.

A spokesman for the Israeli Civil Administration said all homes which receive demolition orders were built without the necessary permits, and residents do not deny this.

“We’ve stopped trying to apply for permits because it is pointless,” said Haj Azmi Jaber, the head of the village committee.

“They [Israeli authorities] consider our land to be ‘agricultural land,’ and they say we can’t build on this land,” he added.

New orders

In 2003, three homes in the village were demolished. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an NGO, stepped in and helped them rebuild.

A new round of “stop building” orders, which residents and aid workers said was the first step towards demolitions, was issued by Israel in December 2007, and then again in February 2008.

All three of the rebuilt homes were again targeted. The families there said they would not try to rebuild again and are likely to leave the village.

The new orders also hit the village’s joint project to build a clinic. Haj Azmi donated land so the people could have a local center for mobile clinics run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.

“I watched them write up the order and put it on the clinic building,” he said. While only partially built, it too was slated for demolition as of 26 December 2007.

“We would have finished building it by now,” Haj Azmi said.

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