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Civil Administration demolishes all structures of Khirbet Um al-Jamal, northern Jordan Valley

Resident of Um al-Jamal, the Jordan Valley amid the community’s demolished homes. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 9 February 2014
Resident of Um al-Jamal, the Jordan Valley amid the community’s demolished homes. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 9 February 2014

On 30 January, 2014, Civil Administrative officials arrived with a military escort at the shepherding community of Khirbet Um al-Jamal in the northern Jordan Valley and proceeded to demolish all of the structures there, namely 16 tents and 12 sheep pens. Twelve families – with a total population of 61, including 31 minors – reside in Um al-Jamal. The demolitions were carried out on grounds of construction without permits. The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a departure from its actions in previous home demolitions by the military and in view of past confiscations by the military, announced it would not supply Khirbet Um al-Jamal residents with replacement tents or other humanitarian gear.

Immediately after the demolition, the residents attempted to rebuild what was left of their tents and sheep pens, but soldiers on site would not allow them to do so. In addition, the military prevented Palestinian Authority officials of Tubas District from sending humanitarian aid and tents to the community. The military permitted the PA officials to send only thick plastic sheeting to cover the residents’ belongings. The soldiers eventually left and. After being obliged to spend the next two nights out in the open, without any shelter from the elements, the residents managed to erect ten temporary tents, using materials salvaged from the wreckage. 

A resident of Um al-Jamal and her baby. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 9 February 2014
A resident of Um al-Jamal and her grandchild. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 9 February 2014

The community owns, a cow, 21 camels and more than a thousand sheep. The residents managed to rebuild about 20 temporary sheep pens and covered some with cloths to protect the young lambs. 

Ever since the demolition the community has been living in fear that the Civil Administration bulldozers might return. The residents have nowhere else to live and rely on the local pastures for their livelihood.

The community is located in an area that the military has declared a "firing zone". Yet that piece of information is just the tip of the iceberg in this story. Demolitions of this type are part of a longstanding policy Israel implements with regard to shepherding communities in the Jordan Valley; the Civil Administration has adopted various measures to keep these communities from remaining where they are and from using the land. Palestinian have been denied access to most of the Jordan Valley, on various grounds. The Civil Administration avoids making master plans for the communities living in the few areas still available to Palestinians. When Palestinians build without permits, which they cannot obtain, the Civil Administration issues demolition orders for the structures and carries out some of the orders.  

Children amid the ruins of Kh. Um al-Jamal. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 9 February 2014
Children amid the ruins of Kh. Um al-Jamal. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 9 February 2014

This policy is aimed at removing the Palestinian population from the Jordan Valley, including for the purpose of establishing Israeli control of the area and annexing it de facto to Israel, while exploiting the land’s resources and minimizing Palestinian presence there. In the long term, this policy is intended to ensure Israeli presence in the area, even within the framework of a diplomatic agreement. Israel as the occupying power in the West Bank must allow the local residents to lead normal lives. This means that Israel must allow residents to build their homes legally as well as grant them access to water resources. In Um al-Jamal, the military not only did not enable this, but would not even allow the residents to rebuild their homes and also kept away any aid offered by humanitarian organizations. Consequently, the military condemned them to expulsion from their homes.

Yet under international law the expulsion of residents of an occupied territory is permissible only under exceptional circumstances, such as urgent military necessity or in order to protect the local population. Yet even under these circumstances expulsion must be temporary and, insofar as possible, residents must be provided with reasonable alternative accommodation until they can return to their homes. Regardless, residents must be allowed to return home as soon as possible. Clearly, the expulsion of the residents of in this case does not meet any of these criteria. Moreover, in breach of Israel’s duties under international humanitarian law, the residents have been offered no alternative solution. 

B’Tselem calls on the relevant Israeli authorities to enable the residents to rebuild their homes and to allow them to continue grazing their flocks on the land from which the military is attempting to expel them.