The 16th of September 2016 will mark three years since the village of Khalet Makhul was demolished, and so we thought it a good opportunity to raise awareness of this community, by highlighting a report from one of the families who have steadfastly remained to share a little of their story:
At 05:00, morning of 16th of September 2013, the residents of Khalet Makhul were woken up by a tremendous noise. Their years of experience recognised the sounds of a home about to be demolished, however not even in their nightmares did they think the Israeli army would attempt to demolish the entire village, not sparing a tent or leaving an animal pen standing. Even the outdoor toilets were demolished. For some reason, only the solar panels – donated by the Red Cross – remained unharmed.
September in the Jordan Valley is as hot as July and August, and now the villagers – including the old, young and sick, were exposed to the full fierceness of the sun. Moreover, this was lambing season, and without shelter, the newborns were dying and sheep gave birth to stillborn lambs.
Immediate help was needed, but here the cynicism of the occupation was shown, this was not enforcement of the Israeli planning and building laws, but a systemised approach to cause real harm to the residents of the Jordan Valley. The goal seems clear – expulsion. The army surrounded the people and forcibly prevented any humanitarian aid from reaching the devastated village. Clashes erupted between soldiers and the desperate villagers and resulted in three residents being arrested. A French diplomat – who tried to bring material to provide shade – was attacked. One of the detainees, a 76 year old man, stood in front of the soldiers, opened his shirt and shouted, “Shoot me here and now! This is my home and here I will die!”
After this disturbing and violent encounter, the residents of Khalet Makhul waged a legal battle and were able to obtain a temporary injunction from the Israeli courts prohibiting further demolition of their homes. But the injunction also prohibited them from repairing or rebuilding their demolished shacks and tents. In March 2015, a second wave of demolitions hit the village and the army destroyed residential tents and animal pens that had been repaired after the initial demolitions.
In September 2013 the Khalet Makhul herding community had 11 families with about 100 people. Today only six families remain including 3 brothers of the Bashrat family, their parents, Abu Khalaf who is 79 years old and lives alone, and one other family. Everyone else had left, expelled. The village that was established well before 1967 where the village elders were born, was vanishing.
Burhan Bashrat is one of the last remaining villagers: a gentle, soft spoken man, a loving and caring husband and father to 8 girls and a 2 year old boy. Nothing is more precious to him than providing for his children and giving all his daughters a higher education and a profession enabling them to be self-sufficient and independent women. Over the years he has taken the leading role in the legal battle to save Makhul and has welcomed many ICAHD solidarity visits.
The Jordan Valley is a third of the West Bank. About 80,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live there today. According to the Oslo Peace Accords, 90% of the area was defined as Area C – under full Israeli military and civil control. Since 1967, Israel has de-facto annexed the Jordan Valley as a way of strengthening its control over the occupied territories – disconnecting the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza, and from having any contact with the outside world through Jordan. The Jordan Valley has one of the most stringent movement restriction systems with the implementation and use of manned checkpoints, agricultural gates, earth mounds, trenches as well as draconian laws such as the prohibition of entry to Palestinians who are not residents of the valley, despite the Jordan Valley being the most nonviolent region in the occupied territories. This disenfranchisement from the rest of the West Bank has prevented infrastructure development that would have allowed the residents of the valley a reasonable life – today there are almost no schools, clinics, shops or public transport.
While the Jordan Valley enjoys abundant water and fertile lands, Israel has expropriated 85% of the water and 95% of the land from its legitimate Palestinian residents to provide for the illegal settlements established immediately after the military occupation of 1967. Through the Planning and Building Laws in Area C, Israel has prevented the Palestinians from building, expanding or remodelling their homes.
Worst hit is the herding community consisting of about 15,000 people. This is the weakest population in the valley; they are not connected to the water grid, and survive by transporting water in by tankers. Not satisfied with denying access to their legal sources of water, Israel has often confiscated the water tankers and imposed high fines for their release. This leaves a resident of Makhul with an average of 33 litres of water a day, while a resident of the neighbouring settlement of Beqa’ot enjoys 456 litres per day. (According to the World Health Organisation, 100 litres per person is the minimum water consumption in disaster areas).
In the past year the military has increased its efforts to expel the Palestinian population from the Jordan Valley: the number of demolitions has doubled and any attempt to provide humanitarian aid has been blocked by the army. On the rare occasion aid did manage to arrive, the Israeli army was quick to tear down those few tents and shelters the Red Cross had brought hoping to provide a little shelter in the excruciating hot summer days and freezing winter nights. Last winter, the army demolished the small herding community of Hadidiya on four different occasions – one time after the other; culminating in one event with the soldiers ripping off the plastic coverings used by the elderly and children to cover themselves from the pouring rain.
Today we are again approaching winter and the start of the lambing season but residents of Khalet Makhul are prevented from preparing their tents and shacks for the coming cold season. They cannot build, they cannot make repairs, the threat is too great – the total destruction of the entire village.
You cannot but be filled with awe and respect for the courageous stand of the residents of Khalet Makhul, led by Burhan and his family who for six months after the demolition did not leave their land for a moment – even though they had no shelter over their heads – and clung firmly to the ground and defended it with their bodies.
ICAHD has stood in solidarity with the Khalet Makhul herding community throughout the years and remains in close contact with the Bashrat family. Burhan and his wife Samhar wish to thank the ICAHD members for their (modest) donations that have helped him buy a small fridge to store cold water and food during the hot summer and to help pay part of his girls’ school tuition.
For more on Burhan and his family see here.
– Written by: Daphna Banai (a longtime activist in the Jordan Valley) and Chaska Katz