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From the field

November in the Jordan Valley – military repeatedly forces 13 families from Khirbet Humsah out of their homes in wind and rain

B’Tselem monitoring reveals that in November 2015, the Civil Administration temporarily displaced 13 families from Khirbet Humsah on seven different occasions, on the grounds that the military must conduct training specifically in one of the areas occupied by the community, Humsah al-Foqa, next to tents community members live in. Between 2 and 19 November, all 86 members of these families, including 46 minors, were temporarily displaced six times, each time forced to leave their homes and stay away from the area. In three cases, Civil Administration officials allowed the families to return home in the afternoon, six hours after leaving, and in three others, they were allowed them to return only at midnight. Nine of the families were temporarily displaced again on 23 November 2015. At that time, the remaining families were away from the community, grazing their livestock elsewhere. The Civil Administration told residents that they would have to leave their homes once more before the end of the month. This would bring the temporary displacements of Khirbet Humsah residents to 19 since the beginning of 2015.

A tank near a tent in the community. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 12 Nov. 2015
A tank near a tent in the community. Photo by 'Aref Daraghmeh, B'Tselem, 12 Nov. 2015

The frequent military manoeuvers constitute unreasonable harassment of many communities in the area in general, and Khirbet Humsah in particular. Members of these communities are required to leave their homes for many hours, on very short notice, sometimes only several hours in advance. In some cases, the residents have no proper alternative accommodation and they have to find shelter, water and food for all members of the family from infants to the elderly. Rain makes matters worse in the winter. It is difficult to drive on the rough dirt roads and difficult to move livestock to a safe place. Some residents have tents out in the grazing areas where they can stay, and others have relatives who are able to put them up. But some have nowhere to go and no choice but to remain outside, exposed to the elements. The difficulties returning home after dark with children and livestock in tow have forced some families to stay away from their homes overnight.

Harb Abu al-Kabash, 42, lives in Khirbet Humsah with his wife and eight children, five of whom are minors. In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field-researcher 'Aref Daraghmeh on 12 November 2015, he described one of the occasions this month on which his family was forced out of its home until midnight:

The evacuation of 9 November was the hardest one so far, because of the severe weather conditions and the long time it took. We had received an order for this date ahead of time and at 6:00 A.M., the army and Civil Administration personnel arrived and stood next to our tents. It was cold and rainy, and we were wrapped in shawls. We started getting organized quickly and got the livestock out. We hardly managed to get our things together. My wife didn’t have enough time to finish making the cheese and we left the young goats behind. My children didn’t have enough time to get ready for school. The army and Civil Administration officers were sitting in their jeeps yelling at us to hurry up. They threatened that those who didn’t leave, or those who returned before the time they told us would be expelled for good, their tents would be destroyed and their livestock would be confiscated. The roads were muddy. We used a tractor with a trailer to get out and we almost didn’t make it to safety. When we parked, we sat under the tractor trailer to take cover from the rain.

Other men from the family managed, with a lot of difficulty, to lead the livestock farther out in the mountains, near Khirbet Humsah. They said later that some of the sheep had slipped in the mud on the way and that when they got there, there was no food for the livestock. I took the children to school and then I returned to where the families had parked. The weather was rough, and because the army wouldn’t let us return before midnight, we had to leave and look for shelter. We rode in the tractor to a more distant site, near the al-Hamra checkpoint. My family and my brother’s family have some tents there which we use over the winter for short periods of time, and there are some blankets and other things in them.

We didn’t feel safe at night, and we were very worried about the livestock. They had no shelter, they weren’t fenced in and we were afraid they’d be attacked by predators. Finally, after midnight, we led the livestock back home. We used the tractor headlights to light the way. We were so exhausted by the time we got home, that we hardly managed to get the livestock into their pens. In the end, the women and children spent the night in the tents near the al-Hamra checkpoint. The next day, we woke up early to check on the livestock, especially the new born kids. We also inspected the area around the tents to make sure there were no dangerous duds in the area. Some of the tents had fallen down because of the winds, and dogs and wolves came in and destroyed our belongings. Then I went back to the women and children and brought them home.

On Thursday, 12 November 2015, before we even opened our eyes in the morning, army and Civil Administration men were already in front of our tents. It was very cold, but not as rainy as the previous time. The whole area was surrounded by tanks. We got ready to leave, and just before we drove away, they gave us more evacuation orders for the next two weeks. We were very upset. We don’t know where to go or what to do and we don’t understand what they want from us.

Our lives are meager. We work to feed our children and raise livestock. We go out with the livestock in the morning and come back at night. That’s our life. We just want to live like everyone else. Why can’t they do their exercises far away from our tents? We live in constant fear and anxiety because of these exercises. The children in the nearby settlements are safe and secure. The army doesn’t go near them. They leave them alone, but we have to live in fear and insecurity.

Shepherds evacuate their flocks from Khirbet Humsah, 10 Nov. 2015
Shepherds evacuate their flocks from Khirbet Humsah, 10 Nov. 2015

Members of the Khirbet Humsah community live almost exclusively off shepherding. The frequent displacements they suffer as a result of the exercises make their already difficult lives even harder. In the summer, the families had to spend hours without shelter from the sweltering sun and both grazing fields and cultivated farmland were set on fire. Now, with winter underway, they are forced to leave their homes in severe weather conditions, using rough, muddy roads, with their livestock at risk of contracting disease due to the harsh weather. This repeated abuse threatens the community’s ability to remain in the area.

The transcripts of a meeting held on 27 April 2014 by the Judea and Samaria Region Subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which were published on the website of Ha’aretz daily newspaper, clearly show that the removal of Palestinians from these areas is one of the main goals behind the military training there. At the meeting, Colonel Einav Shalev, an operations officer in the Central Command, stated: “I think that one of the good steps that could fall between the cracks is restoring firing zones in places where they are meant to be and still are not. [That is] one of the main reasons that we, as a military system, send a lot of the training maneuvers to the Jordan Valley… When the troops march, people moved aside, and I’m making no distinction between Jews and Palestinians here, I’m speaking generally… There are some places [where] we significantly cut down on the amount of training, and weeds cropped up.

Under the guise of military training, Israel harasses residents of communities in the Jordan Valley, deliberately adding hardship to their lives, all as part of a policy designed to minimize Palestinian presence in Area C. These actions contravene international humanitarian law, which allows an occupying power to act in the occupied territory on the basis of just two considerations: The good of the local population and immediate military needs relating to the military’s operations in the occupied territory. As an occupying power, Israel is not entitled to use the land for general military needs, such as training for war or general military exercises. It is certainly not permitted to damage the livelihood of protected persons using this pretext and to take action toward expelling them from their homes. Israel must immediately halt all temporary displacements of communities for the purpose of military training, and all other actions it undertakes in an attempt to force Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley to leave the area..