In one of its more widespread acts of demolition, the Civil Administration last week left 127 men, women and children without shelter in 42-degree-Celsius heat.
Hudeifa crawls across the barren, rocky ground. She’s receding into the distance. Every so often, her father goes after her and brings her back to the only bit of shade in view, under the only tree in the area. Sometimes he even ties her leg to the tree trunk, to keep her from crawling away again.
The 1-year-old baby is covered in dust from head to foot. She no longer has a home, a roof, not even a tent. Nor does her father, Ali Hussein Abdullah. Or any of the 24 members of her family, some of whom are also sheltering in the shade of the tree, along with chickens that survived the raid. They have nowhere else to go. Since personnel from the Civil Administration – Israel’s governing body in the West Bank – left their property in ruins last week, they no longer have a home, not even a tent, not even a water container. They sleep on this hard, rocky ground, under the tree.
It was hot this week in the Jordan Rift; 42 degrees Celsius. But last week, when administration forces arrived to demolish and destroy, the valley was broiling hot. That was of no interest to the troops: They were just doing their job. Well, someone has to do the dirty work. Nor was the whole incident of any interest to the commanding officers or to those who dispatched them – the law-and-justice folks, the Civil Administration chiefs. They are part of a brutal and vicious mechanism that leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to uphold the laws of the occupation, and sees to it that every article of them, however minor, is rigorously enforced.
And here’s the result: Hudeifa crawling across the sand under the blazing August sun of the Jordan Rift. A sweet baby who likes to suck her thumb, she has actually been homeless for more than a week. She’s one of 127 people suffering the same plight, 80 of them children and infants, in the two sites of last week’s devastation – in the Jordan Rift and next to the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, close to Jerusalem. Not by chance, of course: These are two of the three sites of Israel’s ethnic-cleansing efforts (the third is in the South Hebron Hills). These sites are meant to be annexed to Israel one day, to come under its sovereignty; until then, they need to be made ready, cleaned out.
The Bedouin population in these areas is the weakest link, so naturally, they were chosen by the administration to bear the brunt of its malicious abuse. It’s all done under the law and by its enforcers, those bureaucrats of the occupation.
The village of Fasayil is divided into three compounds, two of them built up. Between them is an area in which the Civil Administration doesn’t allow permanent homes to be built – so the people live in tents here, although that’s also prohibited. There’s an archaeological site on the other side of the sandstone trail that leads to the compound. To the south is the settlement of Tomer and to the north the settlement of Fasael, the Labor Party’s settlements of so-called consensus and legitimacy (“moshavim,” “kibbutzim”), which are, of course, perfectly legal.
The children of the Abdullah family were still asleep last Tuesday morning when administration personnel rode in on 15 standard and two all-terrain vehicles. Their mission: to eradicate the homes. It took them about an hour. No especially heavy machinery was needed; tractors, their tread marks still visible in the earth, are enough when it comes to wrecking tents. Fourteen of the structures at the site – tents and shacks – were demolished, based on some incomprehensible logic. Why this tent but not that one; everyone here received a demolition order.
Since then, Hudeifa and her family have been living under the tree. Several other families were made homeless, too. There’s a wrecked playpen, smashed black water containers and two refrigerators that survived the raid intact but are now standing useless under the pitiless sun.
The International Red Cross quickly supplied two white tents, but aside from that, the residents here have been abandoned to their fate. Only a few women from the peace organization Machsom Watch, among them the activist Daphne Banai, have visited since the homes were razed. A new blue UNICEF schoolbag, donated ahead of the start of the school year, hangs on a fence.
The father of the family, Ali Hussein, works as a farmhand in the settlers’ fields, earning 70 shekels (about $18) a day – exploitation wages, far below the legal minimum wage. He and his family have never hurt anyone, he says in his defense. “Israel is so strong. Why the abuse? Our life is already so hard.”
Life is hard, too, in the second site of destruction – in Wadi Sneysel, opposite Ma’aleh Adumim – but not quite as bad. Twenty-three Bedouin families from the Jahalin tribe have lived here since 2000, enduring ordeals similar to those experienced by others of their community who have been forced out of the Negev since the 1950s. These residents received demolition orders in May, and last Monday the wrecking crew arrived, nearly 200 people. It took two hours.
In contrast to the Jordan Rift, the people here felt more protected, thanks to the activity of their attorney, Shlomo Lecker, whom they call “our mukhtar” (village headman). But it turned out that the Civil Administration’s reply to a letter from Lecker in an effort to stop the demolition was sent to the wrong address, according to the (peculiar and ridiculous) claim of the administration. One way or the other, even as the correspondence continued, nine structures were destroyed here, some of them tents and the others animal pens and kitchens. A wrecked toilet structure, donated by the European Union, also lies on the hard desert ground.
Yusuf Said, from the nearby community of shepherds, Maskob 2 – where several structures were also demolished last week – speaks in the name of the newly homeless. “What did we explain to the children? We don’t have to explain anything to them. They saw it for themselves. There’s no need to go into it. If I tell my son the exact why and how of the demolition, there will be chaos when he grows up. What I say to my son is that it’s not so terrible, we will rebuild, we will put things back, it’ll be alright.”
The newly homeless sent their children to the tents of neighbors and relatives in the compound, which lies along Highway 1 to Jericho. This is a relatively “advanced site” – it even has running water. There’s a small, verdant vegetable patch next to Said’s home – okra, zucchini and tomatoes are grown here in the desert. There are also some 2,000 sheep and goats, the community’s prime source of income. To help make ends meet, Said works as a night watchman at the Rami Levy supermarket chain in Ma’aleh Adumim.
“Look how we live – for this we have to be chased out?” he says. “Look at the villas of Ma’aleh Adumim. I have nothing against them, but we should be allowed to stay in our place. Is there a law for demolishing people’s homes? In the sun? When they are not bothering anyone? Tell me, who are we bothering?”
But this is area E1, which is meant to split the West Bank and prevent movement of Palestinians between its northern and southern sections. Hence the demolitions.
A spokesperson for the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the West Bank said in response, with respect to the two demolitions: “These are illegal structures that were built without a permit in violation of the law, some of them in recent years. The structures were demolished after the process of enforcement was completed and the appropriate orders were issued.”
The tents are planted in a wadi that is hit by floodwaters in winter. A few donkeys take refuge from the sun in small caves that line the valley. The wailing of an infant rises from the encampment of shepherds at Maskob 2, which is separated from Wadi Sneysel by a barren hill. The school year started here on Monday. The heroes of the hour were, of course, the homeless children, who told their friends what had happened to them at the end of the summer vacation.
But the adults are fearful for their future and the fate of their homes. “This is no way to live,” Said says. “You go to sleep at night and think: What will happen tomorrow? Will I have a home tomorrow morning or not? We are in the year 2015, and a person goes to sleep and doesn’t know if he will have a home the next day. This is barely a home to start with – and they destroy even that.”
I can’t get the image of Hudeifa – the baby who hasn’t had a roof over her head for nearly two weeks, crawling across the hot sand – out of my mind.
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