ICAHD’s Constructing Peace Campaign recently rebuilt a bridge for Bedouin villagers of Ramadin in the South Hebron Hills. The bridge had been destroyed by the IDF as part of the Israeli government’s policy of ‘encouraging’ the Bedouin to evacuate the South Hebron Hills area, which is close to the separation barrier and the checkpoint exiting the West Bank to Be’er Sheva.
When ICAHD rebuilt the demolished home of a Bedouin family in Ramadin in December 2007, the project team discovered a destroyed bridge at a polluted stream near the family’s compound. The bridge had been built over the stream several years ago by a Palestinian NGO. The dirt trail leading to the bridge had been the villager’s (population 2,208 ) only passage to the nearest tarmac road. As a result of the demolition the villager’s vehicles had to drive through the putrid stream and children on their way to school had to make do with a rickety wooden plank which often washed away in the winter when the stream was swollen with water. The kids often had to roll up their trousers and skirts, and wade through the poisoned water that originated from factories in Hebron. Something had to be done.
ICAHD decided to rebuild of the bridge with Israeli volunteers as part of the organization’s ongoing civil disobedience and resistance activities. These activities are designed to expose the realities of the Occupation to the Israeli and international publics, and help to build solidarity with Palestinian farmers and villagers. ICAHD-USA provided donated funds for the reconstruction of the bridge and the project was managed by the Constructing Peace team which has rebuilt over 100 homes in the West Bank and the Negev during the past nine months. All the construction projects are coordinated only with local Palestinians and no permits are applied for from the Israeli ‘civil administration’ of the West Bank.
It was decided to first build a strong footbridge, since the need was great and funds were in short supply. The footbridge was built in three stages. An engineer from Hebron consulted with ICAHD’s contractor and a design was finalized for a steel bridge 8 meters (24 ft.) long, 1.5 meters wide with 1.2 meter high handrails on both sides. On the 19th January 2008 ICAHD brought ten Israeli activists to assist with laying the foundations together with the local Bedouin and the contractor. A footing of local stone was laid, collected from the adjacent field. Concrete was then mixed and poured to form a solid slab. During the next week the contractor poured a concrete pillar on both sides of the stream, the width of the bridge.
On the 1st February ICAHD brought another busload of Israeli activists to the site. The group included photographers from the activist photography collective, ActiveStills . The plan had been to build the entire bridge in one day. However two days before there had been a snow storm in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, including Hebron where the steel had been prepared. There was also a bombing south of Hebron that caused the IDF to close the main road south. As a result the bus of volunteers arrived late and there was a delay in delivering the materials.
After some tea from the hospitable Bedouin and a bit of waiting, the steel girders and decking from Hebron finally arrived at the construction site. However the generator took a bit longer. In the meanwhile the crew hauled the girders and placed them on the foundation pillars, across the stream. While waiting for the generator to arrive some of the volunteers went up the hill and visited the family for whom ICAHD had built a home in December 2007. When the generator finally arrived from Hebron it looked like a huge custom-built machine from the 19th Century, towed by a pick-up truck. The generator was started with a hand crank, and finally, reluctantly, turned over with a belch of acrid diesel smoke.
The cables were then unrolled to the bridge, hooked up to the welding machine, and the first steel plate placed across the girders. The first attempt at welding failed due to a lack of electricity from the generator. After half a dozen people had tweaked and poked at the innards of the machine, it finally permitted enough electric
ity to emerge from the cables. Then the welding commenced. The work then went quickly, with volunteers standing on the steel pates to flatten them to the girders while the welder did his work. After a couple of hours the main part of the bridge had been entirely welded together.
Then lunch of makluba was delivered, savory chicken and vegetables cooked inside a pot with a covering of rice. Delicious! The personal interactions and socialization at the event were just as important as the labor, with Bedouin, Israelis and Palestinians mingling and having lively discussions. This was as much a solidarity mission as it was a day of labor.
Unfortunately the steps and the handrails could not be delivered because the shop in Hebron was snowed in. The contractor returned to the site after another two days and completed the work. A final visit was organized for the Campaign supervisors to inspect and photograph the finished bridge.