Civil Administration dismantles, confiscates water pipes in Khirbet Yarza, Jordan Valley

On 29 January 2015, Civil Administration representatives came to the Khirbet Yarza community in the Jordan Valley with a bulldozer and a truck equipped with a crane. They took apart the water pipes recently laid for the isolated community and confiscated the parts.

Khirbet Yarza is a small shepherding community that lives in the Jordan Valley, east of the Palestinian town of Tubas. Residents claim that their families, which originated from Tubas, have lived at Yarza for many generations. After Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the army demolished all the permanent structures in the village but one. Although the residents personally own the land on which the community lives, the military declared it a “firing zone” in 1968.

At present, the community consists of 13 families numbering 72 people, including 37 minors. The residents make a living off shepherding and live in natural caves, in shacks, or in tents. Most of their children stay in Tubas during the week, under the care of several mothers from the community, so that they can attend school. They go home on the weekends and on holidays.

Over the years, the Civil Administration has repeatedly demolished the community’s structures. In the last two years alone, the homes of five families (four tents and a shack) were demolished, some repeatedly after the residents rebuilt them. The Administration also destroyed a well, sheep pens, and storage shacks. The community’s mosque was demolished several times, most recently in 2011.

In the early 2000s, the military blocked the paths connecting Yarza with the village of Tayasir and the town of Tubas. The residents made several attempts to open the way to Tubas and repave it, but the army repeatedly razed the rebuilt sections and confiscate work tools.

The community is not connected to a power grid. In 2013, the Energy Research Center at An-Najah National University in Nablus gave the community solar panels that produce a limit supply of electricity.

The community was only recently connected to a water network; until then, residents relied on gathering water in cisterns and purchasing water from tanker trucks privately. Several weeks ago, Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) laid pipes leading water from Tubas to a tower located at a high point in the ‘Atuf area, and from the tower to Khirbet Yarza. These were the pipes dismantled and confiscated on 29 January 2015.

The measures taken against the residents of Khirbet Yarza – disconnecting them from the water network, preventing vehicular access to the village, and demolishing their homes – are all part of Israeli authorities’ efforts to displace thousands of Palestinian scattered in small communities throughout Area C in the West Bank. Some 2,700 people currently live in some 20 shepherding communities in the Jordan Valley, and the Civil Administration is taking various steps to try and remove them from their homes. These steps include repeated demolition of their homes, evacuation of the residents for short periods to enable military training in the area, and confiscation of water tanks.

In 2011 Meyasar Masa’ed, Khirbet Yarza resident, told B'Tselem field researcher about the difficulties in everyday life without running water:

The residents of Khirbet Yarza use the winter’s rainfall that is collected in cisterns. When this water runs out, we have to buy water and pay the transportation cost. They bring the water in containers drawn by tractors. In the past two years, we have brought water from the Tamun well. The road between Tamun and our village is terrible. It’s so bad that it is dangerous to drive a tractor on it, so it takes a long time to make the trip and costs a lot of money. A container of water of three cubic meters costs from 90 to 100 shekels. This includes the gas for the tractor that brings it. The big tankers, which can carry a great quantity of water have more trouble getting to the village, so they rarely come.

To overcome the water shortage, I save water in all kinds of ways. For example, I wash utensils in a container and save the water to wash the floor, the toilets, or to water the trees. I even save the water for the ritual washing prior to praying and use it to water the flock. I try not to waste a drop of water. Still, there is never enough water for cleaning and other needs. Read full testimony

The expulsion plans pursued by the military and the Civil Administration contravene IHL provisions which prohibit the forcible transfer of protected persons other than for their own safety or for imperative military needs. Although ten families in the Khirbet Yarza community own houses in Tubas, they cannot make a living in the town and their income relies on shepherding at Yarza. The Civil Administration has offered the community members no alternative that would enable them to retain their lifestyle and earn a living.

As the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel must enable local residents to run their lives. This includes permitting them to build homes legally and providing them electricity and water. B’Tselem calls upon the relevant authorities to allow the community of Khirbet Yarza to remain in its current location without interference and to put infrastructure in place that would provide residents with decent living conditions.