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They came, they razed, they left: A visit to a destroyed Palestinian village

 by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac          12 April  2014        Haaretz

 The remains of Homsa, March 10, 2014. The demolition was over in an hour. Photo by Alex Levac
Israel is continuing to destroy systematically the villages of shepherds who live in the Jordan Rift. Last week, the Civil Administration demolished Homsa, another tiny Palestinian village. In January, 160 residents of the valley were made homeless; last year, twice as many were left homeless as in the year before.

Again the same unconscionable sights: heaps of debris, bare metal pegs lunging out of the earth, crushed fences, destroyed animal pens and squashed tin huts; remnants of personal property strewn all over; sheep wandering about looking in vain for shade; chickens pecking about; despondent shepherds; wretched sheep dogs; runny-nosed children curled up in Grandmother’s lap and merciless sun beating down.

Another Palestinian shepherd community trampled into the ground. Not the first, nor the last to meet such a fate in this hard, battered valley, whose Palestinian inhabitants Israel has set itself the goal of cleansing itself of, far from the public’s eye. Step by step, devastating act after devastating act, community after community – there are hundreds whose lives and property have been laid waste recently by the Civil Administration.

It’s the law that’s to blame, of course, the occupier’s law. It’s the law, under whose apparent aegis illegal outposts are established and legalized in the twinkling of an eye. And it’s the occupier, thanks to whose auspices these thousands of people, native sons, have neither running water nor electric power nor rights to inhabit the slopes of the verdant, flourishing Jordan Valley.

In 2013, according to United Nations data, Israel more than doubled the demolition of homes and other structures belonging to Palestinians in the valley, as compared to the previous year. Last year, 390 structures were demolished, compared to 170 in 2012, and 590 people were made homeless, compared to 160 the previous year.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that in January of this year alone, 160 more people were left to fend for themselves under the open skies, after the Civil Administration demolished their homes. On January 8, for example, Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah, home to 25 souls, 15 of them children, was razed; on January 30, the hovels of Khirbet Umm al-Jimal, where 61 people, half of them children, lived, was the victim of a similar fate.

Last week came the turn of Homsa, located in the northern part of the valley, home to four families of shepherds – a total of 30 people, 15 of them children, and some 500 head of sheep.

About half a year ago, last September, the community of Khalat Makhoul, adjacent to the settlement of Hemdat, was almost completely eradicated, leaving 12 families without shelter. The residents have since rebuilt their homes and their sheep pens, and now the community has risen again, phoenix-like, from the rubble. It’s a joyful, encouraging sight to see. New tents and tin shacks have been erected in place of the ones that were destroyed, new faucets have been connected to the water containers (of course, this site is not hooked up to the water system), plus there is solar-generated electricity in the new Khalat Makhoul.

Together with two of its residents, Burhan and Bassam Bushrat, we went this week to see what the Civil Administration had inflicted upon their neighbors, members of the Homsa community.

Immediately after the Jewish settlement of Bekaot, at the end of its well-tended rows of grape vines which are now covered with protective nets against all intruders, we turn onto a long serpentine, dirt path that ascends eastward into the hills and traverses the fields that belong to Palestinian landowners from Toubas and Tamoun; at present, the fields are being worked by local tenant farmers.

Under the blazing light, the wheat and the barley are lush and green now. On the slopes of a remote hill, in the heart of a sea of stalks, far from any other place of habitation, lie ruin and devastation. Sitting in a white tent donated by the Palestinian Red Crescent, surrounded by mounds of ruins, is Hakam Abu al-Kabash, a shepherd. The aftermath of the shock is still etched on his face. He’s 28, the father of four young children, the youngest of whom is 7 months old. He was here last week on Tuesday, just after 7 A.M., with his wife, their children and his parents when the forces of the Civil Administration swooped in to ravage his hamlet.

The troops, Israel’s agents of destruction, a fleet of about 25 vehicles including trucks and bulldozers, accompanied by Border Police and others, had come to uproot the community, on the grounds that their habitation was illegal, even though they had lived there for years, on private Palestinian land. Kabash was born here, and for the past eight years he has lived in Homsa in the heart of the wheat fields.

The act of demolition was swift; it was all over in an hour. They came, they razed, they left. According to Kabash, no one bothered to explain why. Maybe the troops were in a hurry – another tent encampment was demolished that same day, belonging to another shepherd, Abed al-Fadiya, not far away, near the settlement of Hamra.

Three days earlier, Civil Administration personnel, armed with cameras, had come to Homsa and documented what they saw, on what turned out to be the eve of its destruction. It was a bad omen. On the fateful day, the workers removed the meager household effects, cranes lifted up the huts and the pens, and the bulldozers crushed the remains, flattening the hamlet, as residents watched from the side. As easy as pie.

Not a word about this appeared in the Israeli media. I couldn’t find any mention of it this time even on websites of Israel and Palestinian human rights groups that generally report on such events. Who cares? More Palestinian rubble in the Jordan valley? Boring, routine.

“Where will the child go?” asked the neighbor from Khalat Makhoul, Burhan Bushrat, himself a study in the survival of ordeals, in reply to my question about Kabash’s infant. “The baby was here and so was his mother,” the father said in a flat tone of voice. “And now he is out in the sun.” What will you do? Kabash is taken aback by the question. “We will stay here. We will rebuild. Where can we go?”

The spokesman of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories told Haaretz this week: “This was an illegal structure [referring to Kabash’s home, although we asked about the community in general], which was built without a building permit. The request of the owner for a permit was not completed after a process of two years. With no response having been received from the owner or his representative at the institutions of the Civil Administration, it was decided to implement the demolition order on April 1.

A source within the administration explained the process in the following way: The original demolition order was issued to the structure’s owner on May 10, 2012. Prior to the owner’s appeal, which was submitted on August 2, 2012, he was given three extensions. On March 6, 2013, the owner was told he had 30 days to demolish the structure himself.

A boy loads a newborn lamb onto the back of a spluttering Subaru pickup. The sheep pen used to be here, and the tent where the family lived was over there. Grandma Jamili is sitting in the white tent of the Red Crescent and half a dozen toddlers are snuggling up to her, all of them barefoot and with runny noses, their faces covered with sores and flies. Some of the children have blonde hair and blue eyes.

The closest school is 20 kilometers away; the children are usually transported via a cart hitched to a tractor. Now they are all sleeping in the open, in the cold and in the heat, and the men watch over the sheep, which have no pen, all night. An open packet of biscuits, half eaten, protrudes from the heap of household goods they managed to salvage, along with a pair of tattered gold-colored women’s shoes. The small silver-colored suitcase in which Kabash keeps his documents is also part of the pile. A T-shirt with the words “Our Theater” emblazoned on it in Hebrew flaps on the clothesline in the spring breeze, next to a Palestinian keffiyeh.

Not far away, at the entrance to Bekaot, something different is flapping in the wind: a banner, announcing “Independence Day. 7 PM in the amphitheater. Berry Sakharoff, Knesiyat Hasechel and fireworks. The Jordan Rift. An Israeli success story.” On our Independence Day, fireworks bursting in the air in the skies over the Jordan valley will illuminate the surrounding fields on a dark and joyous night.

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