Scores of farming-shepherding communities, home to thousands of Palestinians, dot the landscape of Area C, which comprises some 60% of the West Bank. For decades, the Israeli authorities have been implementing a policy aimed at driving out some of these communities. They have made living conditions miserable and intolerable in an attempt to get residents to leave, ostensibly of their own volition.
As part of this policy, authorities prohibit any construction of residential or public structures in these communities, refuse to hook them up to the water and power grids, and decline to pave access roads to the communities. When, in the absence of any other alternative, residents build without permits, the Civil Administration (CA) issues orders to demolish the structures. While these orders are not always carried out, the threat of demolition looms constantly over the residents. In some communities, families have had their homes demolished several times. The CA also destroys infrastructure laid or installed by the residents themselves – such as wells, roads and solar panels for generating electricity – and confiscates water tanks or cuts water pipes.
Over the years, Israeli officials have stated their intention of forcing certain communities to relocate to so-called “permanent sites”, with the declared objective of improving their standard of living. In fact, the plans – the full particulars of which have not disclosed – are meant to constrain the Palestinian residents to narrow confines within urban areas, thereby limiting their ability to make a living as shepherds and farmers. This, in turn, will achieve the Israeli objective of dispossessing the residents of their land and using it to benefit Israel. As with most other aspects of life under occupation, plans were drawn up by Israeli authorities without consulting or involving the communities’ residents, who have no political power – or even representation as a mere formality – in the decision-making processes. This conduct is particularly deplorable with regard to these particular plans, as they dictate a radical change in the residents’ lifestyle and their ability to make a living. To date, none of the declared plans have been carried out.
The authorities’ efforts center on three areas in the West Bank:
- The South Hebron Hills: About a thousand Palestinians, half of whom are children and teenagers, face the threat of expulsion from their homes and the destruction of their villages. The military had expelled residents from this area in late 1999, citing as grounds that the area had been declared a “firing zone” back in the 1980s. Yet Israel, as an occupying power, has no authority to declare firing zones within the occupied territory. Pursuant to petitions by the residents to the High Court of Justice (HCJ), the villagers were allowed to return to their homes pending a ruling. Yet the permission granted was temporary, so the threat of expulsion not lifted. New petitions regarding the expulsion are currently pending before the HCJ.
- Area of Ma’ale Adumim: In the 1980s and 1990s, for the purpose of establishing and expanding the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, the CA expelled hundreds of Bedouins of the al-Jahalin tribe from the areas they lived in. They were relocated to a permanent site that had been established for them near the Abu Dis landfill. Even after this expulsion, about 3,000 people in the area still face the threat of expulsion. About 1,400 of the residents facing expulsion live in the area defined as E1, which Israel allocated to the municipal jurisdiction of Ma’ale Adumim in order to create a contiguous urban bloc between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem.
- The Jordan Valley: Some 2,700 Palestinians live in about twenty shepherding communities in or on the outskirts of areas in the Jordan Valley that the military has declared firing zones. The CA is employing various measures to prevent these communities from remaining in the area, including repeated home demolitions, temporary relocations for the purpose of military training, and confiscation of tankers which supply these communities with water.
The Israeli authorities’ unlawful conduct in this regard is motivated by a political ambition publicly stated by various officials on a number of occasions. They aim to establish facts on the ground and take over these areas so as to establish conditions that would facilitate their actual annexation to Israel as part of a final status arrangement, and until that time, annex them de facto. Meanwhile, for decades, Israel has, been repeatedly, systemically and blatantly violating the human rights of the residents of these communities.
This policy runs counter to the provisions of international humanitarian law, which prohibit the forcible transfer of protected persons (unless carried out for their own protection or for an imperative military need – exceptions that do not apply to these Palestinian communities). The prohibition on forcible transfer is not limited to transfer by physical force, but applies also to instances in which people leave their homes involuntarily or because they or their families were pressured into it. Departure due to impossible living conditions created by the authorities – through, for instance, demolishing homes or disconnecting them from electricity and running water – is considered wrongful forcible transfer. This constitutes a war crime for which all those involved bear personal liability.