The lambs due to be born soon in the village of Halat Makhoul may not survive these chilly nights; nor may the residents, whose tents were destroyed yet again by the Israeli army.
By Gideon Levy and Daniel Bar-On 11 October 2013 Haaretz
The scrawny little kitten is still around. It doesn’t seem to have grown since we were last here, two weeks ago. It’s still scratching for food in the dirt, but it’s still alive. Also still here, somehow, in Halat Makhoul, a village in the Jordan Valley, are some 1,200 sheep and about 100 people. Last week they pitched new tents, and once again the soldiers came to wreak destruction and burn things. This week the inhabitants erected them again − about a dozen white tents on the ruins of their predecessors − but they haven’t inserted the pegs deep into the ground yet, for fear of the soldiers. They are afraid to sleep in the tents, lest the wind collapse the insecure metal poles on top of them.
Another dozen lambs were born in this destroyed hamlet this week; it’s the start of the birthing season. The lambs are fine, though this is not true of some of their mothers; at least two of those that gave birth were lying listlessly among the ruins of their shelter. On Tuesday, our friend, Burhan Basharat, the shepherd, was doing his utmost to save them. He wiped their noses with his hands, injected them with a yellow antibiotic and administered an anti-fever remedy, but he was becoming increasingly concerned: The sheep were not nursing their young, which meant that the two sets of newborn twin lambs were at risk.
Sadness prevails in Halat Makhoul. The village we visited four times last month is withdrawing into itself under the threat of repeated demolitions, the looming winter and the problematic birthing season. At the entrance to every collapsed tin shack, residents continue to sit and stare sadly.
The High Court of Justice was meant to rule on the fate of the village this week, but on Tuesday, the day the interim injunction issued by the court expired, the state asked for two more days. It needed more time to prepare its response to the request for an interim order against destroying the village and expelling its residents, which had been submitted on behalf of the locals by attorney Tawfek Jabarin. The previous day, Israel Defense Forces soldiers tried to block a group of women from the Machsom Watch human rights organization from reaching the village, where they wanted to express solidarity and offer help. Other than them, the fate of the village doesn’t seem to interest anyone in Israel.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of lambs that are due to be born in the coming weeks may not survive the increasingly chilly nights and the hot days here. Nor may their shepherds, whose spirits are being slowly crushed and bodies weakened after nearly a month of being forced to live outdoors.
This week, some of the women and children returned to the rubble. The fire in the damaged taboun oven was re-lit, and in the morning we found a group of shepherds dipping crispy pita into labaneh cheese. “It’s good for the cholesterol,” joked Khaled bin Oudeh, a resident of nearby Jiftlik, who had come to visit his son and his elderly father, who both live here.
Oudeh was also here on Wednesday last week. That evening, a lone IDF jeep made the rounds of the area and then disappeared. Later on, a bit before midnight, a larger force arrived; it destroyed the two new tents that had been erected, set fire to two bales of hay and the tent canvases and confiscated the iron poles.
The interim order issued by Supreme Court Justice Zvi Zylbertal − that forbade the army from expelling residents or destroying homes until this past Tuesday − didn’t seem to make a difference, even though every resident took care to carry a copy of the decision in his pocket, wrapped in plastic.
Every few hours, an IDF vehicle circles the area and leaves. The residents don’t get worked up about anything anymore. The few children who still live here are driven to school every morning in Ein Beda, about seven kilometers away. There is no water or electricity here, nor was there ever, even though a black water pipe does run through the village’s land, carrying water to the army base at the top of the mountain.
The women and children sleep in a tractor cart for fear of snakes and scorpions. Basharat sighs, and says, “I’d be better off being bitten by a snake.” He continues to sleep under the stars, on a tattered mattress. “There’s food and there’s water, but there’s no house,” he adds, with the bitter smile that almost never leaves his face.
There’s a television that’s connected to a car battery, while a refrigerator and finjan are on the ground nearby. Some of the sheep lie under the new tents, but most are out in the sun, as are the dogs, donkeys and chickens.
“My daughter asks, ‘Why did they destroy our houses? Did we do something bad to them that they destroyed them?’” says Basharat. “I want the state to give my daughter an answer. What should we tell our children? Can you tell me that? Don’t write, answer me. What should I tell my daughter? We teach our children to be against terror. Not to hate Jews, Muslims or Christians.
“Since 1967, when we came to live here, Israel has had soldiers here. They come and go, and no one ever complained about us, ever. We never caused them any harm. Let anyone, officer or soldier, who served here in all the IDF bases, tell me that we ever did something bad to them.
“Sometimes soldiers come and tell us we can’t live here. We ask them why, and they say because we are always shouting. But we’re shouting at our sheep. That’s how we live. Is there anyone in Israel who could live the life we live here? You hike, swim and pamper yourselves. As for us − if someone here wants to wash, he washes himself using a bottle of water.”
As we talk, lambs born the previous night are attempting their first steps. They hesitate, slip, fall and get up again. Basharat strokes one of them. Then he takes out a knife and makes cuts in the earlobes of their sick mothers. Sheep blood spatters on his torn jeans. Bloodletting, Basharat says, might help his sheep recover.
In the Jordan valley, the inhuman-yet-human bulldozers came at dawn
A visit to the West Bank village of Khirbet Makhoul, which was demolished this week on the grounds that the houses were built without permits.
Take a good look at the photograph on this page, by Alex Levac. From out of the ruins of his home, the young man pictured here rescued a pair of white doves and is now trying to save them by offering them water, as his little boy looks on. The demolished remains of their home form the background.
The hamlet of Khirbet Makhoul, in the northern Jordan Valley, is not far from the Jewish settlement of Hemdat and an army base for the Kfir Brigade. The village has been completely demolished. The dozens of tin shacks and animal pens, hay sheds and water trough are no longer. Even the little playground is gone. It all happened early Monday morning, at dawn.
When we arrived at the site a little later that morning, the last of the bulldozers and soldiers, Civil Administration personnel and Border Policemen had already left the area. Near each tin shack stood a shepherd, doing his best to pull the remains of his meager belongings from the ruins. Everything about the scene spoke of both resignation and shock − the same set of emotions I saw in the fishing villages destroyed by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. But there it was a natural disaster, and here it was the actions of human beings, actions of the sort that fill the pages of the journal of Israeli occupation.
Silence reigned here. It was not even violated by the field workers of the human rights organizations, the handful of representatives of international aid organizations or the Palestinian Authority officials who had arrived on site. In a muffled voice, the downtrodden shepherds told anyone who cared to listen about what had befallen them and their property only a few hours earlier.
Everything is legal, of course. All of the demolition orders for houses built without permits are legal; even the Supreme Court confirmed the demolitions. Everything was thoroughly legal, done in accordance with the laws of the occupation.
Look at the homes of the surrounding settlements, look at their verdant fields, some of which are on private land − and you will understand. Look at the heaps
of dirt piled up along the length of the roads of the Jordan Valley, with the aim of suffocating these residents − and you will understand. Look at the infinite number of concrete blocks adorned with “firing zone” warnings that are placed next to every tent − and you will understand. Look at the undeclared policy in this remote area − and you will understand.
Here, far under the public’s radar, a systematic expulsion is underway.
Very early Sunday morning, at about 3 A.M., shepherd Burhan Basharat was awakened in his shack; a neighbor had spotted bulldozers on the road. It would be another two hours or so until the Israel Defense Forces bulldozers moved up the dirt road that leads to this shepherds’ village. Two hours later, not a trace of it would be left.
Basharat is a young man who wears a kaffiyeh around his neck, his face scorched by the sun. He is standing by the remains of his hut, which is higher up the hillside. He isn’t speaking. “This is a tough blow,” he whispers toward me. Basharat has eight young children.
Flocks of sheep are left shepherd-less. Even worse, they lack even the slightest bit of shade or even a drop of water in the burning Jordan Valley heat. A veterinarian working on behalf of the aid organization Oxfam, who was rushed to the scene, is trying to save the livestock that were left without a pen. Representatives of the International Red Cross have also arrived. A few sheep are milling around beneath the ruins, and hundreds more are standing behind them. Only the strong will survive here. Those are the rules of the game.
The residents’ livelihood depends on their sheep, and that is now at risk. Ahmed al-Assad, the deputy governor of Tubas, and Aref Daraghmeh, the head of the al-Malih council, estimate the damage caused to the 12 families who live here at NIS 500,000. They promise that the PA will enlist in the effort to rebuild the village.
A young child breaks down in tears; his father attempts to calm him. When he grows up, he will remember these events. He and his friends’ wretched playground lays in ruins. Elderly shepherd Mahmud Basharat says the residents did not try to oppose the demolition. “What could we do? If you do anything,” he says, “they’ll kill you.”
His friend, the shepherd Khalaf bin-Oudeh, offers assurances that they will rebuild the village: “The soldiers told us, ‘Get out of here. This land belongs to the State of Israel. If you stay here, we’ll come back in another 10 days.’ I asked the soldiers’ officer to give me a note saying that he demolished it. He told us, ‘I can’t give you anything. Go away.’ But we will not go away. Whatever happens, happens.
“Will anyone leave his home? Whom would we give it to? To soldiers? They have three army bases around here. To settlers? They have three settlements around here. I want to ask this: Is there a law in Israel that permits something like this to happen? Is there a law in Israel that can do this kind of thing to us, as if we are not human beings? I worked in Israel and I know. This doesn’t happen in Israel.”
The two elderly shepherds say they have lived here for about 25 years and that it is their land. A water tanker appears from the direction of the main road. Bin-Oudeh tries to pick up what was, until this morning, the tin ceiling of his home, in order to extricate a few household objects. He, too, is not a young man and has a hard time raising the steel poles from the pile of debris. A battery whose label reads “Batteries produced in Israel” − the only source of energy here − rolls on the ground, near an old Nordmende television set.
The following day, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued the following response to our request for information: “The structures in question are unlawful and were built without construction permits. The structures were demolished in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rejection on August 28, 2013, of the petition that had been filed against their demolition.”