In the village of Khirbet Tana, east of Beit Furik, the 300 or so residents live in caves, tents, and both temporary and permanent structures. This community has existed in the area for decades and the people make their living farming and herding sheep and cattle. In the 1970s, when some of the residents were already living at that location, the site of the village was declared a closed military zone and a firing zone. The Civil Administration does not recognize Khirbet Tana as a village worth planning and prohibits construction there. The community is not connected to water or electricity and its residents use two local springs for water.
In July 2005, while Khirbet Tana residents were on agricultural land in Beit Furik, the Civil Administration demolished nearly all the village buildings and blocked up the entrances to the caves used by the residents. The demolition was executed on the grounds of construction without permit in a firing zone, even though at the time, the firing zone had been inactive for at least 15 years. The villagers rebuilt their homes, and at the end of that year petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) seeking to have the Civil Administration prepare a master plan for the village and not demolish their homes. In its response to the petition, the State announced that the planning authorities had decided not to draft plans for Khirbet Tana, “given that the cluster [of homes] is located on the grounds of an archeological site and in the middle of open space designated as agricultural land in the relevant [British mandate-era] master plan, and in light of the extensive land reserves for the village of Beit Furik.” The State added that, in any case, the residents reside permanently in Beit Furik in Area B, and stay at Khirbet Tana only seasonally.
Slideshow: Life in Khirbet Tana before and after the demolitions. Photos by B’Tselem
In January 2009, the judges rejected the petition and accepted the State’s position. The Civil Administration demolished buildings in the village five times from 2009 to 2011. The fifth demolition took place in March 2011, when the Civil Administration demolished all 46 of the village structures, including eight ancient caves used as dwellings and for raising livestock, and water cisterns. 152 of the village residents, including 64 children, were left homeless. Apart from a few caves, only the mosque, in an Ottoman-era structure built over a century ago, was left standing. After each round of demolitions, the residents returned and rebuilt their homes.
Following the latest demolition campaign in March 2011, the residents of Khirbet Tana once again petitioned the HCJ against the demolition of the village and the expulsion of its residents. The Court issued an interim injunction prohibiting the authorities from demolishing buildings pending a ruling on the petition, on condition that the situation on the ground be “frozen”. In November 2012, more than a year and a half later, the State submitted its response. It reiterated the State’s objection to drafting plans for the site, adding that “beginning shortly, and over the next few months”, there would be a “series of comprehensive training exercises for IDF forces” using live fire which would take place in the firing zone in which the village is located. In November and December 2012, the Israeli military commenced training in Khirbet Tana, for the first time in years, and ordered the evacuation of the residents on four occasions, for two days each time. Legal proceedings in the residents’ petition went on until November 2015, including a court-recommended process of mediation between the State and the residents. No demolitions were carried out while the legal proceedings were underway.
On 16 November 2015 the HCJ gave notice that the legal proceedings were concluded and the petition stricken. The justices accepted the authorities’ position that the structures constituted illegal construction in a firing zone. The HCJ also noted that the State had agreed to allow the Khirbet Tana residents to access the area to pasture their flocks and that the “the respondents will surely act leniently in this regard”.
Since 9 February 2016, authorities have demolished structures in the community on four separate occasions, most recently on 7 April 2016. In the extensive demolitions, undertaken as part of the attempt to expel the residents from their homes, 40 dwellings and 68 other structures, including the community’s school which was built in 2011 with funding from the Italian aid organization COOPI, were razed. While the State asserted in court that the area inhabited by Khirbet Tana residents is needed for military training, an argument accepted by the HCJ, a March 2015 report by Israeli NGO Kerem Navot shows that the area is not used very much for training: According to the report, only 570 hectares (13.4%) of the more than 4,200 hectares of the firing zone are used for military training on a greater than quarterly basis. Moreover, this training takes place on land that is one to four kilometers away from Khirbet Tana.
Demolitions carried out in 2016:
- 9 February 2016: Authorities demolished 2 dwellings and 11 livestock pens.
- 2 March 2016: Authorities demolished 9 dwellings and 16 livestock pens, and a school.
- 24 March 2016: Authorities demolished 17 dwellings and 21 livestock pens, and a water cistern.
- 7 April 2016: Authorities demolished 12 dwellings and 11 livestock pens.