Wiping a Village Off the Map:
The Destruction of a Herder Community in Northern Jordan Valley
Eighty people are left homeless in Hammamat Al Maleh in the Northern Jordan Valley, after the Israel Defence Forces demolished homes and animal shelters of 11 families in the communities of Hammamat Al Maleh and Hammamat Al Meiteh, on January 17th, 2013.In the morning of the following day pillows, mattresses, kitchen stoves and clothes were piled around the village. People were homeless, animals without shelter and 55 structures were gone.
The place looked more like it had been destroyed by an earthquake than by people. On the morning of January 19th, IDF returned to the villages and confiscated what was left of the personal possessions together with 18 tents provided to the families by the Red Cross after the demolitions.
Hammamat Al Maleh, Al Meiteh and Al Burj are vulnerable herder communities in an equally vulnerable Jordan Valley, a place strategically important for Israel yet necessary for any future Palestinian state. It constitutes 29% of the West Bank and is fruitful agricultural land — although 95 percent of the water resources are under Israeli control and is therefore inaccessible to the people. Israel uses different means to prevent the establishment of new Palestinian villages in the area while making life extremely difficult for those who stay. Not only does Israel control the water, but it has also declared 53% of the area ”state land”, another 46% military firing zones and has closed yet another 20% by declaring it a nature reserve. One doesn’t need to be an expert in mathematics or in strategical planning to understand that the intent is to clear the Palestinians from the area.
For the past year the IDF has executed new forms of displacing people in the area through issuing ”temporary” eviction orders to allow for military training. On January 2-3, the IDF evacuated over 1000 people from their villages in Jordan Valley due to ”training,” including the communities of Hammamat Al Maleh and Meiteh. Ten families received demolition orders, which were executed two weeks later.
The communities are situated between Tayasir checkpoint, an Israeli military base and a road junction that is easily closed by the army. Around 7 am on January 17th, the army entered the village together with the Border Police and three bulldozers. As the people are living next to a military base, they are used to seeing soldiers and army vehicles every day, but according to one villager: ”This time the action of the army was worse than ever before. I’ve never seen so many soldiers, and they have never been as aggressive as they were this time.” Upon entering the village the army closed the Tayasir checkpoint and connecting roads to the west of the village. Hammamat Al Maleh was completely cut out of the rest of the West Bank and no humanitarian organizations or media were able to enter the area on the day of the demolitions. The villagers were asked to stand 300 meters away from the villages, where they were able to observe the destruction of their lives and homes but were unable to do anything to stop it. In five hours the demolitions were over. Estimates of the number of the soldiers vary between 300 and 1000, the situation being complicated and confused.
The next day International Committee of Red Cross, whose mandate is purely humanitarian and based on the Geneva Conventions, was able to deliver first aid tents for those whose homes were destroyed the day before. Putting up a tent on the ruins of your home is not exactly a happy ending.. The very next day, the IDF entered the villages once again, blocking the entrance and exit roads. This time they had fewer soldiers arriving in 65 army jeeps, but they were extremely aggressive. Instead of bringing in bulldozers they came with two big lorries and began gathering not only the ICRC tents but also all personal possessions of people whose homes were demolished. One of the farmers tried to protest and talked with an IDF soldier, who threatened him by saying: “If you try to put up more tents, we are not only going to confiscate them, but we will arrest you and take your sheep too.”
Until now many of the villagers haven’t put up any tents out of fear of arrests and more confiscations. The main income of the villagers are sheep and they can’t afford losing their cattle. People are sleeping either with their neighbours, in open shelters or under the stars. The day after the confiscations the governor of Tubas, Marwan Tubas visited the area and asked the people stay in their villages in order to resist, The future of Hammamat Al Maleh doesn’t look very bright as, according to the mayor of the village Aref Daragmeh, the whole village has demolition orders to be carried out by the end of April.
Destruction of the village
VIllage after the demolishion
Hammamat Al Maleh
Hammamat Al Maleh after the demolishion