A deteriorating situation in the Jordan Valley: a family evicted without official orders
On 20 April 2012, the Zamel family living in the village of Ein El-Hilweh in the Jordan Valley were forcibly removed from their home. The family were forced to dismantle their own tents, despite no official demolishing order presented to them by the Israeli army.
Ein El-Hilweh, as is over 90 percent of the Jordan Valley, is located in Area C which means that the area is under full military and civil control by the Israeli occupation authority. To enter or leave this area from and to the West Bank one has to pass through one of the four Israeli checkpoints in the Jordan Valley.
The Zamel family have lived in the Ein El-Hilweh village for hundreds of years. They travel twice a year within the same area, and have currently has set up their tents at their summer location, a place very close to the water spring that is forbidden for Palestinians to use. In the winter they move 400 meters further away to Be’our, a place on a hilltop.
“You are not from here”
Neither the Israeli authorities or the Israeli army gave the family prior warning regarding kicking them off the land.
“One day they were suddenly there to demolish our house, without an official demolishing order,” says Abu Khaled, the father of the family. None of the soldiers gave him a reason for the demolition and simply told Abu Khaled, “You are not from here.” The Israeli Occupation Forces handcuffed Abu Khaled very tightly, and ignored him when he yelled at the soldiers to loosen the handcuffs as his hands began to swell. The soldiers took Abu Khaled to the adjacent settlement called Maskiyyot, where he was held there for at least one hour.
In the meantime, the soldiers ordered the rest of the family members, nine children and the mother, to stand in one line so they could see the demolition happening. A short while later, they were ordered to finish demolishing their own house. The metal frame of the tent was badly damaged, and the inner layer, which prevents heat absorption was completely destroyed. Now the heat is sometime so unbearable that the children prefer to sleep outside instead of inside their own home.
Back in the Maskiyyot settlement, the soldiers took Abu Khaled on a tractor, which was followed by a truck full of the family’s belongings, and dumped him behind the Tayasir checkpoint. The army counted on having the rest of the family joining their father behind the checkpoint, thus clearing Ein El-Hilweh of their presence. At that moment, however, the International Red Cross Committee got involved and talked to the Israeli district officer. The IRCC finally succeeded in returning Abu Khaled back to his family in Ein El-Hilweh.
Nevertheless, the Israeli army were adamant in continuing to harass the family. For the next three weeks the army in their jeeps came to ‘visit’ the family every night, around midnight or 1 am. Every time bright headlights from passing cars flash over the tent, the family wakes up thinking the arm has come to demolish their house again. The soldiers usually order the whole family to stand in one line so they can scold and threaten them. ‘”The army hopes we will get tired of this and will move voluntarily,” Abu Khaled says, “but we will never do so. They’d have to kill us first.”
Settlement expansion and resource takeover in the Jordan Valley
Abu Khaled doesn’t know why the Israeli army continues to treat him this way. None of his children nor himself have ever been arrested or caused any problems.
The only reason he could think of has to do with the expansion of the Maskiyyot settlement, which is made up of the settlers who were transferred from Gaza in 2005. The Israeli authorities in the Jordan Valley have conducted a series of escalated violations against the Palestinians living there. From January 2010 up until June 2011, at least 350 demolition, evacuation and removal notification have been issued against Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, a policy that is to the benefit of settlers at the expanse of the Palestinian land and population. A report written by Ma’an Development Center raises a justified concern about “the imminent grabbing of a key Palestinian area that will eventually lead to a geographical discontinuity with Bethlehem and Jerusalem.” Futhermore the report shows the consistent attacks on Palestinians and their land by the Israeli settlers. While Palestinians land is confiscated, settlements are expanding.
Another tactic the Israeli government is using to get rid of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley is to occupy and completely control the water resources. For example, the Israeli occupation has banned Palestinians from using the main water spring in Ein El-Hilweh for three years, while the spring provides water to the settlement. By occupying water resources they cut off Palestinian Bedouins from one of their basic needs, especially since natural springs are mostly their only provision of water.
Despite the shaky circumstances surrounding their lives, the Zamel family attempt to continue on their lives as normal as possible. After the demolition the youngest child got very sick, and had to be taken to the doctor. The mother experiences a lot of stress and is emotionally and physically tired since. She wants to move away from the humiliations, but Abu Khaled is still trying to convince here to stay.
“‘We have to be patient and steadfast,” he told her. “Maybe a solution will come soon.”
Because there are no official documents involved, it is hard to make an appeal in the Israeli court. The family have a lawyer, but without sufficient evidence it is difficult to make a case. This is why this particular example of the Zamel’s eviction and tent demolition is dangerous. This violation shows that the Israeli army acts in the interest of the settlers, without any higher authorization or accountability. The settlers and the army are free to behave in utmost impunity in the area of Ein El-Hilweh, and because this area is in Area C, there is nothing the Palestinian Authority can do about it. The family managed to return to their land, but live in constant apprehension that they will be evicted and subjected to further humiliation once again.