January 26, 2013
On January 17th at around 9 a.m. in the morning, two busloads of soldiers, numerous jeeps and three Caterpillar bulldozers carried out a demolition order on al-Maleh’s structures, a village in the Jordan Valley. Between 45 and 55 structures were totally destroyed, including around 30 structures used for keeping livestock.
Two days later, on Saturday, the army returned and confiscated even more possessions including food, bedding and tents that had been donated and erected after the first demolition.
The Israeli military declared the site a closed military zone and closed a nearby access road until 8 p.m. that same night.With no emergency access to bring aid, tens of villagers, including women and children, were forced to sleep outside in the harsh winter cold for an entire night.
With their livelihoods destroyed some of the villagers have fled, taking their livestock with them, to stay with relatives and families in nearby villages.
This destruction and dispossession is a trademark tactic used by the Israeli occupying forces to repress and intimidate the people of the Jordan Valley into leaving their land.
Displacement and dispossession tied to Church ownership
Israel is continuously transforming remote areas that fall under Area C, like the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills into 'Firing Zones’ and closed military areas.
Arif Daraghmeh, the mayor of the Al-Maleh and Bedwen Area Village Council, stated that "the Israeli military want this land because it is like Lebanon. The hills and rocks are exactly like places in Lebanon and make it perfect for the soldiers to train here."
As the Jordan Valley Solidarity group explained, the disruption and destruction tactics used in al-Maleh over the past four days are part of a general trend of repression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley.
Two weeks ago the Palestine Monitor investigated an incident in which the military moved inhabitants of al-Maleh approximately 100 metres away from their homes so that they could conduct military field exercises. The debris and hardware left behind cause obvious damage to both the villagers and their livestock.
Arif Daraghmeh also claims that seven people from the village have been injured in land mine explosions on their land.
Eye-witness reports from the demolition on Thursday indicate that the occupation forces were not just carrying out orders to simply demolish structures. The destruction of large water tanks using bulldozers created huge muddy plains, effectively re-landscaping areas of the village.
The modes and methods used by the military indicate this was not a regular destruction of a village for economic or political gain. After further investigation, the situation concerning the village becomes even clearer.
The village, present there for over 30 years, is built on land designated Area C by the Oslo Accords. This means that the Israelis have full civil and security control over the village, but not over its Palestinian inhabitants.
However the land is legally owned by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, a Catholic church with jurisdiction in many areas of Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Cyprus. The villagers of al-Maleh have to rent the land from the Church. Yet they do so without the 'valid papers and documents’ that would hold legitimacy in Israeli courts, despite years of pleading the Church to provide some.
With the Church withholding the documents for land rights and de facto military control over the area, it was only a matter of time before action was taken against the village.
These layers of legalities and structures of power have cast a long shadow over the village, making it almost impossible to react and fight for their land.
The villagers received the demolition order on 8th December 2012, informing them that they had 40 days to remove themselves from the land or face forced demolition.
Considering the Area C designation, the military did not in any way "break the rules" and wield their power over the inhabitants of Area C. They targeted the structures and facilities that make life possible there instead.
With only a few structures remaining, including a pre-1948 stone house, the villagers face one of the toughest challenges to their existence yet.
As one inhabitant explains in broken English, "these tents left, they could come tomorrow for them."
Partial relief in the form of solidarity for Jordan Valley residents
On the same day as the first demolition on January 17th, a solidarity stay was organised by the Freedom Theatre and Jordan Valley Solidarity group in the village of Fasay’il al-Wusta.
The village, like al-Maleh, has been targeted by the Israeli occupying forces, who have taken away water supplies, cut off electricity, and made it almost impossible to access by regular transport.
The event combined mud-brick making for new homes and olive tree planting with Playback Theatre, dabke dancing and music in the evening. Such solidarity efforts bring partial relief to the struggling people of Jordan Valley villages.
As one activist, Hannah Kirmes-Daly, explains, "the efforts here will never be enough to fully help these people, but we have a consciousness of our limitations and do what we can to the best of our ability."
Hannah and the other activists were clear that their efforts in Fasay’il would be difficult to replicate in al-Maleh.
As Rashed Khudiri, co-organiser of the solidarity stay in Fasay’il states, "We cannot go there to just plant some trees, live with these families and take photographs. We must bring tents and be more helpful."
Daraghmeh, al-Maleh’s mayor, corroborates this view.
"The future is black here [in al-Maleh]. Israel wants us to leave. We want help but we don’t want more temporary shelters, more bedding, more clothing. This is our land and we just want our land."
What’s more, a report release by Irin News two weeks ago showed how aid agencies all too often fail in their commitment to uphold human rights in Area C parts of the West Bank. This is coupled with the fact that the international community and media remain almost completely silent to the plight of Palestinian towns and villages throughout the Jordan Valley and West Bank.
There is a general feeling of helplessness emanating from al-Maleh. In the face of such adversity, it is not difficult to see why.
Many people around the globe often find themselves in a battle over dispossession or eviction with authorities over planned roads, Olympic stadiums, airport constructions or even military areas. In each case, as in this one, there is a complete disregard for basic human rights.
But it is the manner in which the villagers of al-Maleh have been habitually treated and down-trodden by the authorities, including a Church, that makes this case all the more inhumane.