Women and girls bear brunt of Israel’s crimes in Jordan Valley

This short documentary by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq focuses on the life of a family in al-Hadidiya, a Bedouin community in the northern Jordan Valley.

Titled Sumoud – Arabic for steadfastness – it is named after the youngest daughter of the Bisharat family, which has resided in the same occupied West Bank community for generations.

Sumoud talks about how she loves the family’s rural lifestyle, the only life they know, surrounded by trees and animals that she plays with and looks after.

But their life has been badly disrupted by Israel destroying their home and gradually encroaching on the land they live on, threatening to push them out completely.

There are now just 53,000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, according to a new Al-Haq report on Israel’s colonization of the area, down from 250,000 prior to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967.

Not only has Israel prevented the return of most residents forced to leave because of the war, but in the 50 years since, the human rights group says, it has created an “increasingly unlivable environment for Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, often forcing them to relocate.”

Sumoud’s family and a handful of others are trying to stay in al-Hadidiya despite repeated demolitions as Israel colonizes the land around them.

Their village is home to 112 residents, but is deprived of access to water or electricity. Community members are forced to purchase water brought in by tankers to ensure a supply.

Al-Hadidiya is located in Area C, which constitutes roughly 60 percent of the West Bank. It is surrounded by three Israeli settlements: Roi and Beqaot in the west and Hemdat in the east.

Israeli politicians are increasingly calling for the permanent annexation of Area C, which would leave the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank corralled into tiny islands of territory.

Violence against women

In Jordan Valley communities like al-Hadidiya, “women are designated the responsibility to secure food and water, thus carrying the burden of compensating for food shortages, notably following a demolition,” according to a second report by Al-Haq, complementing the film and focusing on the gender violence of Israel’s policies.

Israel’s assaults, demolitions and harassment have forced the village’s residents “to live with little to no privacy, in overcrowded, unsanitary and uninhabitable environments, which do not meet the minimum conditions” for adequate housing, Al-Haq states.

One woman in al-Hadidiya recalled a particularly violent and traumatic demolition in November 2015 when Israeli soldiers assaulted her and her pregnant daughter.

“They brought female soldiers with them to attack us. I was pushed down by a female soldier and fell to the ground,” the woman said.

“My daughter, who was six months pregnant at the time, came to defend me, and she [the woman soldier] cocked the gun at us and pushed my daughter to the ground too.”

The daughter started bleeding and, according to her mother, it took more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive.

No access to healthcare

Due to Israel’s restrictions on their movement, mothers in another northern Jordan Valley community, Ein al-Qilt, can’t access adequate healthcare.

The closest clinic is about an hour away and women must make an arduous trip by donkey to the nearest public transportation.

“We truly suffer, especially during extremely hot and cold weather,” one woman told Al-Haq.

Urgent medical care is unavailable and most women are forced to give birth at home with no medical supervision.

“How can a woman walk or ride a donkey for such a long distance during labor?” another woman said, adding that she has given birth to 12 children who survived, while another eight died, as she gave birth at home, unable to reach a hospital.

Denial of schools

Israel denies Palestinians under military occupation the right to build on their own land. They are forced to build without permits and live in constant fear that their roads and homes will be demolished.

In 2015 and 2016 alone, Al-Haq documented the demolition of 240 structures and the displacement of almost 650 Jordan Valley residents, including more than 300 children.

Israel even forbids the construction of schools.

As a result, children in Ein al-Qilt are forced to attend school in Aqbat Jaber refugee camp approximately 10 kilometres away, according to Al-Haq.

But with no transportation, the children are forced to separate from their families, spending weeknights at the refugee camp and returning home on weekends. Women in the community rotate the responsibility of accompanying the children and looking after them while they are away from home.

In winter, makeshift dirt roads turn to mud, making journeys to schools and hospitals even more difficult. Israel also puts military checkpoints between these communities and the schools their children attend.

These Israeli restrictions have a disproportionate effect on girls’ education. According to Al-Haq, once they reach puberty, families tend to withdraw girls – though sometimes boys as well – from school, “out of fear for their safety, or in some cases, to comply with the social custom that renders it inappropriate and unsafe for girls to live and sleep outside of their homes and away from their parents.”

Basic needs

Israeli forces also raid and monitor areas to stop residents from rebuilding demolished structures and they confiscate their belongings.

During and after the November 2015 demolition in al-Hadidiya, Ruqaya Bisharat, Sumoud’s mother, says in the video that Israeli soldiers destroyed the family’s bread oven and television, and did not allow them to retrieve anything from the house.

Sumoud says that soldiers destroyed the house while animals were still in it, killing some doves.

The family’s clothing was also damaged with mud and rain. When Ruqaya attempted to hang them on a laundry line, soldiers destroyed that too.

“I used a plastic sheet as a carpet and cover for my children to sleep, soldiers came and pushed my kids off the plastic sheet and confiscated that too,” Ruqaya says.

When one community member in Ein al-Qilt built a restroom out of brick to give people some privacy and improved hygiene, Israeli forces ordered him to demolish it.

Ein al-Qilt has no access to electricity either, making it very difficult to preserve food. Women, who traditionally do these chores, are forced to use fire for cooking, wash clothes by hand and purchase food the same day they plan to cook it.

Sexual harassment

Israeli settlers, who surround most of these communities, are given free reign to harass Palestinians with impunity and sometimes with the protection of Israeli forces.

Settlers have delivered death threats through loudspeakers, mocked Palestinian funerals and engaged in indecent exposure to intimidate Palestinians, especially women.

“Such acts are clearly intended to create a hostile, degrading and humiliating environment, particularly for women and girls, and may amount to an act of sexual harassment, thus a form of violence against women,” the Al-Haq report states.

Despite the violence they face, these communities are determined to stay on their land.

“We have a beautiful life,” Abd al-Rahim Bisharat, Sumoud’s father, says in the film. “Our rural lifestyle is not what makes our life difficult, the occupation is what makes it difficult.”

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.