Ben Carden. All rights reserved.Since the beginning of 2016, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has sent out 76 triggers alerting relevant NGOs to demolitions by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). This number seems to announce an ominous future as it already counts for more than one third of the 205 total demolitions in the entire year of 2015.
The entire population of Area C in the West Bank is around 300,000, accounting for 6% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. Ever since the “clinical death” of the Oslo agreement in 1999 and the emergence of the second intifada in 2000, the Israeli government has retained its control over Area C, as determined by this accord at the end of last century.
The Civil Administration, a branch of the umbrella organisation Coordination of the Governmental Activities in the Territories (COGAT), manages and carries out bureaucratic functions in the territories Israel currently controls. One of its recent priorities has been to establish full control over the Jordan Valley, in Area C, a region covering 28.5% of the West Bank. The Jordan Valley’s rich agricultural land, temperate climate and the abundance of water supplies offer enormous agricultural and economic benefits to the holder of that land. In order to establish its dominance in this area, the Israeli government has started significantly increasing demolitions of Bedouin structures.
The issue for the Israeli government has been the presence of the Bedouin communities in Area C, totaling 50,000, who prevent the expansion of settlement activity and the full control of the land. This has prompted the government to adopt a “house demolition policy”, in which they demolish any structure, residential or animal, to deter the Bedouins from living in the community and to move them to permanent cities either in Jericho, Abu Dis or in other Palestinian cities in areas A or B. Demolitions have increased exponentially over the past few years, leaving many families with no shelter for themselves or their animals, which has led to difficult living conditions and rendered their farming-related activities nearly impossible to maintain.
OCHA has been a key figure providing aid for victimised families and reversing the damage that demolitions inflict upon these communities. Their unique “emergency response” approach to the issue has allowed them to be one of the few organisations in the territories providing aid within ten to fifteen days of a demolition.
One of OCHA’s monitoring officers takes a very unique approach when interacting with the communities. When I visited the rural community of Al-Jiftlik in the Northern Jordan Valley with him, he communicated with the victims without the subjugation and the condescension that can sometimes accompany the interviewer with the clipboard. Instead, he created a very interpersonal relationship with him and the various beneficiaries to create a system of trust so that they provide him with the full account of their situation.
The melancholy and defeated air of one father of a household in the municipality of Al-Jiftlik was quite evident as he told us in detail about the demolition process. The family, who had been in the Jordan Valley prior to its occupation by Israel, had received a demolition order in October 2009, warning them of the forthcoming events.
Ben Carden. All rights reserved.On 10 February 2016, six years after the initial warning, one bulldozer accompanied with an ICA vehicle came to the house, requested everyone to exit the establishment and almost instantaneously bulldozed over the concrete blocks and zinc metal of which the house was built. The 110 square meter building had only been inhabited by the family since early 2009 and had taken one year to build.
After the demolition of their house, we asked them how they planned on proceeding. Many generations of this family had created a lifestyle consisting of herding and farming, making the forsaking of this dependent source of income a crucial obstacle when deciding if they should leave to the cities. He claimed that the family would continue living in the area, with a makeshift shelter, and that by doing so they were “resisting the oppressive regime” created by the presence of the Israeli army in the territory.
Towards the end of the day, we conducted our fifth and final evaluation in a Bedouin farming community. The family lived in a secluded part of the mountain, three kilometers from the nearest road, and had a combination of 900 animals ranging from dogs, goats, sheep and chicken living with them in the mountain. The destruction of the animal shelter had been the sixth unit destroyed by the ICA and the IDF since early 2014. The IDF had supposedly failed their objective as the repeated demolitions had not succeeded in relocating this family into the urban cities of areas A and B.
In order to enhance the effectiveness of the distribution of aid to these Palestinian families, OCHA has found it advantageous to implement emergency relief activities by coordinating with various other organisations in the region. On 18 February 2016, I was invited to attend a meeting with these organisations.
The first item on the agenda involved the difficulty in distributing aid to the village of Hadidiya. Abu Saqer, representative of the village, explained the difficult situation. He started his speech by addressing the core motive of the IDF, such that the Israeli efforts were not to “forcibly transfer families”, but rather were to “depopulate” the area and “cleanse [the Jordan Valley] of Arab people.” This statement immediately brought a stern and serious mood to the rest of the meeting.
After multiple attempts by organisations to supply material to Hadidiya village, the IDF had consistently destroyed or confiscated the shelter that had been donated. Abu Saqer highlighted the fact that the restriction of humanitarian aid is a growing problem, and that the timid attitude of the Palestinian Authority was preventing them from acquiring the aid they deserved.
Following this meeting in the Hadidiya village, the consortium directed itself to Qusra village, where a representative of one of the organisations discussed the Community Eyes Watch (CEW) program they had created to respond to settlement violence towards Palestinian communities.
Communities living in the Jordan Valley are often geographically close to Israeli settlements, which makes them easy targets to settlement violence. The aim of the CEW program is to establish an early warning mechanism in response to any settlement violence. The communities, with the assistance of the consortium, would be informed of whom to contact when they witness any aggressive act on behalf of a settler. Qusra village is placed between Migdalim settlement and the Israeli Esh Kodesh outpost which makes it an easy target for settler violence. A man of Qusra village shared the story about his son who had been a victim of settlement violence. During his child’s return home from school, he was approached from behind and struck in the back of the head with an iron bar. The injury had caused him to lose all sense of smell and touch, making him one of three disabled people in the community.
The Bedouin and rural communities residing in areas C of the West Bank are often the most remote from the conflict, yet their presence in the Jordan Valley makes them key victims of a campaign of oppression. Whilst these people try to live a life of tranquility, they are often forcefully brought back into a life of constant worry, fear, and uncertainty.