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From the field

15 March 2011: Civil Administration demolishes Jordan Valley village Khirbet Tana

On 2 March 2011, the Civil Administration demolished all the structures in the Palestinian village Khirbet Tana, in the Jordan Valley. This is the sixth time that the Civil Administration has demolished structures in the village since 2005, and the fourth in the last four months. The pretext for the demolitions is that the village is located within a closed military area intended for military exercises, in which Palestinians and Palestinian construction are prohibited.

Khirbet Tana is a small Bedouin community of 250 persons to the east of Beit Furik. The community has lived in the western section of the Jordan Valley for dozens of years, gaining their livelihood from farming and raising livestock.

For many years, residents of the village, like other Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, have suffered from Israel’s policy restricting their access to extensive land areas of land, in an attempt to remove them from the area. The village lies in Area C, which is under complete Israeli control, on land that was, in the 1970s, classified a closed military area when some of the residents were already living there. According to residents of the village, the area has never been used for military exercises. Israel’s restrictions on movement prevent rapid access to the village from main traffic arteries in the Jordan Valley, compelling the residents to use alternate, dirt roads from the Nablus area.

In recent years, villagers twice petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that the army reduce the area in which entry is prohibited and that the Civil Administration prepare an outline plan for the village to enable them to build their houses lawfully. The petitions were denied “for substantive reasons relating to the needs of the surrounding area.”

The army has carried out four demolition operations in the village in the past four months, destroying temporary and permanent structures, and enclosures for livestock. On 8 December 2010, the Civil Administration demolished 18 structures, including a school and six residential dwellings, leaving 48 persons, among them 14 minors, homeless. On 9 February 2011, the Civil Administration destroyed nine residential dwellings and 12 enclosures for livestock. This operation left 60 persons, including 19 minors, homeless. A week and a half later, on 20 February, the Civil Administration demolished seven residential dwellings (in which 58 persons, including 21 children, lived) and seven livestock enclosures.

Following the last mentioned operation, the UN coordinator for humanitarian activities for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Maxwell Gaylard, issued an announcement pointing out that, under international law, Israel is forbidden to destroy property in occupied territory. “If the authorities ultimately responsible for these demolitions could see the devastating impact on weak and vulnerable Palestinian communities, they might reflect upon the inhumanity of their actions," Gaylard said.

On 2 March, the Civil Administration finished the demolition work, destroying all but one of the remaining structures, 46 in all, including water reservoirs and eight ancient caves that were used as dwellings and to raise their flock, leaving the village’s 152 residents, 64 minors among them, homeless. The sole structure that was not demolished was a mosque that the villagers relate was built 150 years ago. Village residents are now living in the mosque and in tents provided by international aid organizations.

Following the demolitions, villagers again petitioned the High Court, demanding that the court order the state to stop demolishing structures in the village and to cease removing its residents. On 7 March, the court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting further demolition and removal of the residents, unless “the removal or demolition is required to meet urgent combat needs and is due to imperative security reasons.” The state’s response is expected by 22 March.

Khirbet Tana is the third Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley from which the Civil Administration has sought in recent years to expel the residents. In 2008, the Civil Administration planned to demolish most of the houses in al-Aqaba, a village in the northern Jordan Valley. Following a campaign by the residents and international organizations, the Civil Administration did not carry out the demolitions. In the summer of 2010, the Civil Administration demolished all the structures in al-Farsiyya, a village east of which the Shademot Mehola settlement had been built. Since then, the village has been rebuilt.

The destruction of structures in Palestinian communities in territory under Israeli control in the Jordan Valley is part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to remove the Bedouin from the Jordan Valley. These efforts include prohibition on building in Bedouin communities, not providing electricity and water hook-ups, and repeated destruction of residential dwellings and structures for raising livestock.

As part of the these efforts, Israel has declared 45 percent of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea closed military areas intended for military treating, and prevents Palestinian access to them. Some of these areas remain closed even though they are not actually used by the army. In recent years, the army has posted concrete panels bearing the warning “Firing Area” next to Bedouin communities , even though some of the land lies close to main roads, and settlements have been built nearby.

The army also restricts Palestinian movement between the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West Bank. Palestinians who are registered as residents of the Jordan Valley are almost the only persons allowed to enter by private vehicle. The restrictions make it difficult for Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley to obtain health services and attend school and impair their ability to gain a living, market their agricultural produce, and maintain family and social ties.