Palestinian property destroyed as Israeli settlements grow

In the Khirbet Yerza village in the Jordan Valley, members of the Anabousy family stand in front of their home one day after it was destroyed by Israeli forces, 25 November. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

Israeli bulldozers and armed soldiers implemented a swath of demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures for more than a week in multiple areas across the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.

On 24 November, two bulldozers and approximately 200 soldiers swarmed the farming village of Abu al-Ajaj in the Jordan Valley, destroying livestock pens and sheds. Ma’an News Agency reported that the demolition came two weeks after the state confiscated village land in preparation for the expansion of a nearby illegal Israeli settlement colony (“More Bedouin structures demolished in Jordan Valley,” 24 November 2010).

The Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS) group, a network of Palestinian grassroots community organizations from all over the Jordan Valley, stated that several baby goats were killed and Israeli settlers accompanied the soldiers as the bulldozers razed the land. “Both [the soldiers and the settlers] laughed and cheered as the destruction took place,” the group reported in a news release (“The occupation forces demolished 4 barracks in the Jordan Valley,” 24 November 2010).

JVS added that an Israeli court declared a settlement expansion freeze for the nearby settlement of Massua, but the destruction happened nevertheless, and the settlers are intent on building despite the freeze. “Five years ago the settlement started to expand onto a small piece of land that belongs to the Bedouin community,” JVS reported. “Since then, settlers haven’t stopped grabbing land from the Palestinian shepherds.”

Most of the Jordan Valley is located in Area C, an area which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank. Under the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were carved up into areas A, B and C, the latter of which indicates full Israeli control. Under the Oslo regulations, Area C, which includes East Jerusalem, is administered and controlled by the Israeli government and its military. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians live in Area C.

Also on 24 November, dozens of villagers in Bani Hassan attempted to fight back against Israeli troops as bulldozers razed the village, which is near the Palestinian town of Salfit and the illegal Ariel settlement bloc. Agricultural land and land reclamation equipment was demolished, according to a report published by Ma’an (“Israel bulldozes PA-backed projects,” 24 November 2010). At the same time, near Bani Hassan in the Wadi Qana area, Ma’an reported that crews from the Israeli Civil Administration and the Society for Protecting Nature in Israel “arrived with bulldozers which demolished the Wadi Qana rehabilitation project, [costing] the Palestinian finance ministry $120,000 US.” A water canal was destroyed, as were parts of a reservoir and agricultural irrigation systems.

On the same day, in East Jerusalem, dozens of Israeli police flanked a bulldozer in the at-Tur neighborhood near the Mount of Olives as it destroyed the home of Abed Zablah. A father of five, Zablah had obtained a court order to halt the demolition of his home earlier in the day, according to a report by Agence France Presse. But by the time he had returned home from the court, Israeli forces had already leveled his house (“Israel razes Palestinian home in E. Jerusalem,” 24 November, 2010).

Al-Araqib destroyed for seventh time

Days earlier, Israeli forces once again demolished the Palestinian Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) desert on 22 November, the seventh time since July 2010. In a press release, human rights group Amnesty International stated that “at least 50 of the 250 residents of al-Araqib village are again living in the ruins of their homes, attempting to rebuild them. Others are camping in tents in the village cemetery (“Israel condemned over Bedouin village demolition,” 25 November 2010).

Amnesty International added, “[a]s in previous demolitions, no eviction or demolition order was presented to the inhabitants. Israeli authorities have previously detained residents and their supporters when they demanded to see a demolition order … Israeli media reported in early 2010 that the government had decided to triple the demolition rate of Bedouin constructions in the Negev. As the government does not recognize the villagers’ land tenure, it maintains that their settlements are illegal.”

The village of al-Araqib was razed to the ground on 27 July 2010, when approximately 1,000 Israeli riot police raided the area as dozens of homes were destroyed. Villagers who returned to their land constructed shelters after the July demolition, but those were destroyed again on 4 August, 10 August, 17 August, 13 September, 13 October, and last week. Amnesty International admonished the Israeli government in its press statement. Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “We condemn these repeated demolitions that aim to forcibly evict the residents of al-Araqib from the land they have on lived for generations … The fact that the village has been demolished seven times in four months shows that this is not some administrative mistake but a conscious Israeli government policy of dispossession.”

A home in al-Isawiyye after it was destroyed by Israeli forces on 30 November. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

East Jerusalem

Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem on 22 November, bulldozers destroyed buildings in al-Isawiyye and Hizma. According to the same report by Amnesty International, livestock pens and small homes used by farmers were demolished.

The next morning in the Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood, also in Jerusalem, Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family from their home, following a court ruling that declared the home to be owned by Jewish settlers.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) stated that immediately after evicting the Qarain family, Israeli police handed the building over to settlers affiliated with the Elad settlement financing organization.

“The settler group is currently undertaking work on the premises to fortify the building,” stated ICAHD in its report (“Palestinian family forcibly evicted in Jabal Mukkaber,” 24 November 2010). “Elad’s activities focus on moving extremist national-religious settlers into the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in areas encircling the Old City, and particularly those neighborhoods which form the last contiguous Palestinian fabric of Jerusalem, connecting the West Bank with the Old City. This area has been eyed as a future Palestinian capital since peace negotiations in the mid-’90s, and includes the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras al-Amud and Jabal Mukkaber.”

ICAHD stated that the grounds for eviction of the Qarain family “remain unclear.”

“Regardless of the Israeli court order, any transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied East Jerusalem remains a clear breach of international law which absolutely prohibits the transfer of civilians into occupied territory, regardless of the method used to gain the property,” the ICAHD report added.

A week later, on 30 November, Israeli forces demolished yet another home in al-Isawiyye. Jerusalem municipal bulldozers, escorted by border guards and police, destroyed a home and a printing shop, according to Ma’an News Agency. Protesters were attacked by police, who shot tear gas (“Bulldozers demolish home, workshop in Jerusalem,” 30 November 2010).

Southern West Bank and northern Jordan Valley

On 25 November, the wave of demolitions continued in the southern West Bank and the northern Jordan Valley area. The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) released a report stating that Israeli forces raided the village of al-Rifayaia, east of Yatta in the south Hebron hills, where they demolished a 250-meter house. PSCC said the house was home to two families of twenty persons, 16 of them minors (“Israeli forces demolish mosque as West Bank demolitions wave continues for the second day in a row,” 25 November 2010).

PSCC reported that hours before the al-Rifayaia demolitions, Israeli bulldozers destroyed four homes, three animal shelters and a recently-renovated mosque in Khirbet Yerza, home to more than 120 individuals. The Jordan Valley Solidarity group added that the area is “highly militarized with three military camps including Samrah, Almaleh and Kopra camp. In the past, the community has faced constant military harassment. As a result, most of the homes in the area had received demolition orders (“New demolitions in the Jordan Valley,” 25 November 2010).

And on 29 November, Israeli forces handed out demolition orders to a mosque and the owners of two homes in the al-Masara village near Bethlehem. Ma’an News Agency reported that six military jeeps raided the village and took photographs of the mosque and the homes (“Israel hands demolition orders to village mosque, homes,” 29 November 2010).

While Israel continued its policies of frequent demolition of Palestinian property, a settlement colony in East Jerusalem announced new construction of Jewish-only housing units.

According to a report by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, Israel approved a plan to expand the settlement of Gilo, near Bethlehem, which will add 130 housing units on land in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa (“130 new housing units approved in East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo,” 30 November 2010).

In an address to the United Nations marking the 33rd annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared on 29 November that Israel’s resumption of settlement expansion was a “serious blow to the credibility of the political process,” and that the state was obligated to cease settlement activity under international law (“Secretary-General’s message on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” 29 November 2010).