On November 3, two bulldozers and two excavators arrived escorted by the Israeli army ready to destroy the Bedouin Palestinian village of Humsa al Bqai’a, located in the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank. They demolished 18 stores and booths in which 73 people were staying, including 41 minors. 75% of the community lost their home, according to the UN. They also demolished 29 other tents for livestock, three warehouses, nine tents used as kitchens, 10 portable toilets, 10 corrals, 23 water tanks and two solar panels, among others. It was the largest demolition operation in more than a decade.
Israel has Humsa al Bqai’a in its sights and last month it repeated the operation up to five times on February 1, 3, 8, 16 and 22. In total, between November and February, Israel has destroyed or confiscated 165 structures and displaced 311 people from Humsa al Bqai’a (the figure adds up to all the times the same person has been expelled). Furthermore, much of the destroyed and confiscated infrastructure had been donated to the Palestinians as humanitarian assistance, including by the European Union and its member states.RELATED
“It is a traditional Bedouin village in occupied territory that depends on its traditional houses, its herds and its water tanks for its shelter, its food security and its economic survival,” said the UN special rapporteur on the situation in early March. of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, and the rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Balakridhnan Rajagopal. “Separating these people from their land and homes is particularly punitive given the harsh winter they are facing and the ever-present danger of a global pandemic.”
The explanation that Israel has given to justify its operations in Humsa al Bqai’a is that the village is situated on a shooting area for the training of Israeli military personnel. “In recent weeks, Civil Administration personnel have held several meetings with the Palestinian residents of Khirbat Humsa and explained the danger of staying within the military practice area and offered them an alternative space outside of it,” he told elDiario. .is a source from the Israeli embassy in Spain.
“The reason for this measure is to avoid dangerous situations for the inhabitants of the area. In any case, the tents had been installed illegally and without the necessary permits. Despite the offer, the residents refused to move them,” The same source adds, saying that the tents were confiscated because residents refused to leave the area. “The seizure, duly authorized, was executed in accordance with the corresponding procedure.”
Israeli activist Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, has spent much of his life promoting peaceful resistance and trying to stop such operations by standing in front of bulldozers. “House demolition has nothing to do with security at all,” he says.
“With Hamsa al Bqai’a they say that it is a shooting area, but that is only an excuse. In the vast majority of cases they are demolished because they do not obtain permits to build, but when they want to get rid of entire villages, what they do is declare the territory as a shooting area and then they use security as a justification to eliminate these communities. It really has nothing to do with security, “Halper denounces.
Since the 1970s, Israel has declared about 18% of the West Bank as “shooting zones” for military training. This occurs over the territory designated as Area C – the one with the greatest Israeli control – which represents 60% of the entire West Bank. About 30% of Area C is already a shooting range for Israel. In this sense, Humsa al Bqai’a is one of 38 Bedouin communities that have been trapped in these military training areas. In total, there are around 6,200 Palestinians who are in this situation.
“They are some of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank, with limited access to education and health services, water and electricity and sanitation infrastructure,” points out the OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). The village of Humsa al Bqai’a has its origin in the displacement caused by the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Since then, the community has gradually settled down “due to the expansion of Israeli settlements and restrictions imposed on the access to their pasture lands “, says the UN body.
“The real objective is to take the land. First it is taken away and then it is handed over to Israeli settlements,” says Halper. “They are attacking the entire West Bank, but the Jordan Valley is the main objective because Israel wants to clean it up for Israeli settlements and thus surround the Palestinian population. Areas A and B – of greater Palestinian control – remain in the center and so you dominate geographically. “
“The homes and belongings of the families living there have been demolished or confiscated five times since the beginning of February. Shops, food, water tanks and livestock feed have been confiscated despite repeated requests from the international community to stop these actions and comply with international law, “said Lynn Hastings, OCHA’s humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, after the operation on February 22.
Israel has greatly increased demolitions during the coronavirus pandemic, in breach of a promise he had made at the start of the health crisis. In April 2020, the Civil Administration promised that it would not demolish “inhabited buildings” and that it would strive to “reduce tension with the Palestinian population.”
In 2020, however, it destroyed 851 structures, 36% more than the previous year, according to OCHA data. In fact, it is the second highest figure in 12 years. In 2021, the Israeli authorities have already demolished 273 structures, 100 of them financed by international donors, which also represents a higher rate of demolitions than in 2020 (about 28% more).
“The policy of the Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian buildings has continued even during the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, many Palestinians have been left homeless and many have lost access to services and livelihoods,” Jamie McGoldrick noted in September. UN humanitarian coordinator in Palestine. “Destruction of property in occupied territory is prohibited under international law unless absolutely necessary for military operations.”
“The destruction of essential infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic is of particular concern. The pandemic has increased the needs and vulnerabilities of the Palestinians, who are already trapped in the abnormality of a long military occupation. Therefore, illegal demolitions exacerbate these. vulnerabilities and should stop immediately, “he added.
Since 2009, Israel has demolished 7,515 buildings, displacing 11,000 people. “In 99% of the cases they say that it is a construction problem and in 1% they allege security reasons. It is impossible to obtain a construction permit and it can also cost you between 20,000 and 30,000 euros, but 77% of Palestinians live below the poverty line. On the one hand, you know that if you don’t have a permit, they can demolish you, but on the other hand, you don’t have enough money to even apply for it and, if you did, you know that you won’t get it, “he explains.