Holy Land: Israelis destroy village

Khirbet Tana school

Khirbet Tana school

While we hear news of  violent human rights abuses in Libya, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern countries - there is little coverage of the tragedy taking place on daily basis in Israel/Palestine, out of sight of  tourists and pilgrims. Ecumenical Accompanier Ann Farr sends this report from the Holy Land:  

Today they destroyed Khirbet Tana.  Khirbet Tana is a small shepherding  village, with about 250 people, south east  of Nablus, in Area C.* The people are  shepherds and farmers, their sheep are  their main livelihood.  Like many farming communities they bring their sheep out to graze in the mountains in a landscape that is breathtaking. Some have temporary homes here and some live here permanently.  

In 1985 the village was threatened with demolition and the Israeli Supreme Court stopped this but in  2005 the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) returned and demolished homes. The villagers have suffered four,  and in some cases five, demolitions and now live in plastic shacks and the nearby caves.  In 2008, the community, with the help of Rabbis for Human Rights, lodged a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice, asking for an adequate planning scheme for the village that would allow them to have building permits. This was refused and again the villagers started receiving demolition  orders. In 2010, homes and animal shelters were demolished twice; the last time being on 13 December, after which we visited twice to talk to the families. The IDF have declared the village a 'Closed Military Area' and are determined that these families, who have lived here for hundreds of years, will be harassed enough to leave.
In December 2010 even the tent school, which had stood next to the Mosque was demolished. All that could be seen in the rubble were the tiny upturned tables and chairs. The children are even denied education in their home village.

The IDF destroyed most of the village again this morning, including things that had been recently rebuilt to give shelter to both families and their sheep. We were called out because the Israeli army had started demolitions and were told that at 9.30am two bulldozers and fifteen IDF jeeps, each with at  least four soldiers, arrived in the village and started to destroy everything on one side of the village.
Some families were allowed to remove their belongings from their homes, which were plastic shacks, and  sheep and lambs from their 'barracks' (plastic tents, some of which were supplied by the Red Cross after the last demolitions). Others, despite pleading to be allowed to do this, were refused and their belongings were buried under the rubble and some sheep and lambs were injured or killed.
When we arrived there were heaps of belongings beside some of the  piles of rubble and during the  afternoon people were constantly carrying the belongings that had been saved and were either loading  them onto a truck to take to the nearby caves or were carrying them into the shelter of a makeshift  plastic tent. Some young relatives and friends came out from Beit Furik to help and support. Small  children wandered round, bemused.

Where there were very young children the parents had been told by the  soldiers to take them away so they would not see the demolition!

In one case, when the shepherd asked to be allowed to remove the animals  from their shelter, the bulldozer driver was even more destructive.

In two cases stone walls were broken and attempts were made to destroy  the low walls of what used to be homes. Deep bulldozer tracks could be  clearly seen in each place.

The one side of the village was completely destroyed and it seems that  this was where some of the sheep shelters were made of corrugated iron  sheets or had these sheets as roofs. This seemingly puts them in the  category of 'permanent structures'.  We were told that 11 families and about 100 people were affected, with 40 of these being under 15 years old. We were able to gather information from ten of the families before it got too dark to see anything.

Rathi Mahmoud Hanani stood weeping in front of  what had been his home. He was born here and his  parents lived here before him. He said: “They  came for me first and I told them to wait. I  wanted to take my sheep and the twin lambs out. I  wanted to take my things out of the tent but they  would not let me. I said, please let me take my stuff, I have sheep. Then they hit the sheep with  the bulldozer.  Where will I keep my sheep? We only live here with our sheep. What have we done  to them?”
This elderly man was distraught. After the last demolition, in December 2010, he showed us what had  happened: his stone house totally destroyed and his belongings buried under the rubble. Despite all this  he laughed with us and told us about his life here and in the Jordanian army when his new wife and his parents had given him up for dead. This time he was broken. Nothing was left of his home or sheep  shelter (that had been supplied by the Red Cross) He was alone because his wife is very ill and staying in  the nearby village of Beit Furik. His concern was for his sheep and their new lambs that had no shelter  on what would be a very cold night.

In another family, 21  people, including young children, were  forcibly displaced by the demolition. The  extended family, Wasif and Uda Hanani,  their two sons and their families lived in three tents and had sheep shelters for  their flocks. They told us that a lot of  soldiers had come and that they had tried  to hit their father. They were one of the  three families that had an Israeli Court   Order (a copy of which we saw, with their names on) showing that a demolition order was under appeal,  but were told by the IDF soldiers that, “those don‟t apply here.”                                     

By the end of the day, what was left of their belongings was loaded onto  the van and they went to stay in two nearby caves: one for them and one  for their sheep. This is the fourth time they have had their homes  demolished. When we visited before they had shown us that all they had left after that demolition was the bright yellow  plastic sheet that they kept the sheep feed bags dry. The father and one of his sons was living under that, in a very small space next to the sheep feed, with just two mattresses and a tiny gas camping stove to heat water. After this they had put up new tents for their families and sheep and now even those were gone.

Although this has been their land since  Ottoman times, and they have papers to show this, the people were told by the soldiers that they would return every two months to destroy anything that was put up again.

“I told them this is my land and if you demolish  today I will build it tomorrow. They (the soldiers) said, “You can go back to Beit Furik”.   We will build again and again. When the  soldiers came I was standing in the middle. They told me to go out and I would not. I told them I wanted to see how they worked! We are suffering here since 1968 – there is nothing more I can be afraid of. We are with God and we are not afraid.”

We met Usra Ahmed and Fais Yusef Hanani as it was getting dark and cold. Usra said: “I am 66  years old and I was born here, where you can see the olive trees.  He (my husband) is nearly 80 years old and he was born here (pointing  to where we were sitting outside their cave home). We spend all our time with the sheep – how can we live without them?  It is not possible.”
We listened to their story and those of the other families, while sitting with them on whatever could be found, drinking the cups of tea and coffee that they insisted on making for us. Despite the appalling devastation, their generous and innate hospitality prevailed.  We had to leave when it got too dark to see anyone any more. Fires were being lit to give some warmth but no shelters had arrived for either people  or animals. These have now arrived but doubtless it will not be long before they suffer the same thing again.
Please tell this story to others and write to your MP and MEP and ask why these farmers should  suffer this constant devastation, be prevented from earning their living and denied safe shelter, education, and freedom from fear.

9 February 2011

*Area C: In 1995 the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C in the Oslo Agreement. Area A is under full Palestinian civil  and security control. Area B is full Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control. Area C is full Israeli  control over security, planning and construction. This agreement was intended to be for a few years until a permanent solution  was found.  This has not happened and the Palestinians living in Area C are being strangled by Settlements and Settler outposts and have total and absolute bans on building, extending or repairing anything on their land.

**Closed Military zone: since 1967 the Israeli authorities have declared 18% of the West Bank as a “closed military zone” for  training, or “firing zones”. The Israeli Civil Administration prohibits construction in these areas and residents are routinely  issued demolition and eviction orders.  

Ann Farr works for Quaker Peace and Social Witness as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical  Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  

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