Out of sight, however, Israeli consolidation over the Jordan Valley is continuing apace. Last month, the Israeli army demolished several Palestinian structures in the communities of al-Hadidiya and the al-Musafa area east of Jiftlik village.
In al-Hadidiya, in the northern Jordan Valley, the bulldozers arrived on the morning of 11 October leaving Omar Arif Bisharat and eight relatives, including five children, homeless. Doles of doves soared over the rubble of his home. He raised his hands, struggling to convey the calamity of what had happened to him. In addition to his home, the army demolished six other structures, including several animal pens.
The doves, Bisharat explained, had been raised by his family. Their pen – with baby doves inside it – had been demolished along with the other structures and the birds were now circling their old home. The family’s sheep, too, were homeless.
“I had no idea they were coming,” Bisharat told The Electronic Intifada. “When I saw the military jeep, I thought they were coming for my neighbor’s house,” he added, saying that while he had received a demolition order, he thought the case was pending and he never received notice when his home was going to be demolished.
The threat of home demolition is an ever-present danger for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, part of the so-called Area C of the occupied West Bank over which Israel maintains full military and civil control. As a consequence, Palestinians are not allowed to build houses, put up tents, dig water wells deeper than 100 meters, build roads or install solar panels or water pipes without Israeli-issued permits. These are almost never granted.
Bisharat and the 112-strong community in al-Hadidiya are now left trying to carve out a life with what little resources these livestock farmers have. The villagers live in sheet metal shacks and tents due to a lack of building permits and limited funds.
The Israeli authorities also refuse to connect the community to the electricity or water grid. Even accessing the village has become a great challenge. The village used to be accessible through a paved road. But when the nearby illegal settlement of Roi was built in 1976, settlers put up gates to block Palestinian access.
The community was forced to dig a dirt road from the main highway to their village. Without a four-wheel drive vehicle, this road can only be driven down at an arduously slow pace. In winter, the road becomes muddy and cars often get stuck.
In parts, the road coils around piles of soil the Israeli authorities dumped there in attempts to block access.
The sides of the road are cluttered with the remains of water pipes the Israeli army cut after villagers had attempted to connect to the water grid in the nearby village of Tamoun.
Bisharat does not know what to do. The soldiers told him he could not rebuild his house again. But he has no choice. For the time being, he and his family are staying at a neighbor’s house.
The Jordan Valley has always been an area of strategic importance. The strip of land in the east of the West Bank is seen by Israeli military planners as providing vital strategic territorial depth, separating it from its Arab neighbors to the east. As a result, whether the Oslo process was on or not, Israel’s leaders never considered relinquishing control over the area after its occupation in 1967.
Geographically, the Jordan Valley bisects the West Bank. Khan al-Ahmar’s impending demolition comes in part because of its location next to the Jerusalem-Jericho highway. Israel wants to use this area for settlement expansion as part of an overall plan – the E1 plan – to connect illegally annexed East Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, encircling the city with settlements and dividing the West Bank in two.
The area also holds one-third of the West Bank’s water reserves. Once the bread basket of Palestine, it has great potential for development and would be essential in the building of any future Palestinian state.
But some 90 percent of the Jordan Valley consists of Area C, under full Israeli administrative and military control. Israel uses these areas for the expansion of illegal settlements and obstructs all types of Palestinian development.
On the same day that Bisharat’s home was demolished, Israeli occupation forces also demolished the home and several animal pens farther south in the area of al-Musafa.
The house and pens belonged to Odeh Naji Abu Saoud, 23, who recently got married and has a 14-month-old son, Khaled.
“I have a lot to say,” he told The Electronic Intifada, “but I don’t know how.”
Abu Saoud struggles to find the words while setting up a tent – donated, he said, by the Red Cross – for his family, homeless for a second time. Abu Saoud’s previous house was destroyed last year.
“It was a good house. Concrete, with a tin sheet ceiling,” he said.
The Israeli authorities had told him then that he lived in a firing zone, a closed military zone, and told him to move 100 meters down the hill. Abu Saoud and his wife moved to this location and lived in a caravan donated by the European Union, Abu Saoud said. Only two months after moving in, they received a new demolition notice.
“The European Union, the Red Cross … It would be great if they could actually protect the materials they give us,” Rashid Sawafta, a coordinator with the Jordan Valley Solidarity group of activists campaigning for Palestinian rights in the area, told The Electronic Intifada.
From 1970 until 2012, Israel designated approximately 56 percent of the Jordan Valley as a closed military zone. According to Sawafta, this has little to do with military needs and everything to do with land appropriation. Declaring an area as a military zone, he said, often precedes the establishment of an illegal settlement.
A Palestinian presence in closed military zones is formally prohibited. Still, and according to human rights group Al-Haq, 38 Palestinian communities live in such areas across the West Bank, of which 80 percent are in the area of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea or the South Hebron Hills.
The Israeli military regularly organizes combat exercises in these areas, during which the army temporarily expels Palestinians from their homes. Fatima – who preferred for her real name not to be used – was given notice in September for her and her family to leave their home in the community of Ein al-Hilweh ahead of military exercises.
When they returned, the family found several of their cows shot. Two were dead, two others died later of their injuries. The death of the livestock was an enormous financial loss for Fatima’s family. One of the cows had not had calves yet and was worth as much as $3,800, said Fatima.
Still visibly troubled by what happened, Fatima said she was certain the Israeli military was planning to expel her and her family eventually.
“But we have no other place to go,” she said.
The Bisharat and Abu Saoud families expressed similar sentiments.
“What can I do?” Bisharat asked. “Wherever I move there will be a racist occupation.”
The Israelis are not interested in Palestinian rights on the land, he added. “The Israelis do not want coexistence. They only want a Jewish state.”
Abu Saoud is now planning to build a home for the third time. This is not just an act of resistance, but one of necessity. There is nowhere to move to and nowhere with the space for livestock to graze.
“I will rebuild my house, and maybe they will come and demolish it for a third time,” he said, shaking his head. “How does my house harm Israel that it needs to destroy it?”
Annelies Verbeek is a Belgian journalist based in Ramallah.