Update: On 24 September 2013, Adv. Tawfiq Jabareen applied to the Israeli High Court of Justice on behalf of the residents of Kh. Khallet Makhul, petitioning for an interim injunction that would prevent the expulsion of the villagers. On the very same day, the High Court issued an interim injunction against the expulsion of the villagers or the demolition of their homes by the Civil Administration or the military. According to the court, the interim injunction does not apply to demolitions necessary on urgent military grounds or on unambiguously operational security matters that cannot be postponed.
Since the injunction was issued, the residents have erected several tents, some of which were then demolished by the military contrary to the High Court ruling. Additional attempts by humanitarian aid organization to furnish equipment to the residents have largely failed, with the equipment being either confiscated or destroyed. The situation on the ground on 6 October 2013: there are eleven alternate tents standing that some 15 Khallet Makhul men are using as dwellings as well as for tending the sheep now lambing. Due to the harsh conditions on site, the women and children of Khallet Makhul have been sleeping in the cities of Tubas and Tammun, but the women return to Khallet Makhul on a daily basis to help with the flocks.
On 16 Sept. 2013, the Civil Administration demolished all the structures of a Bedouin community living in Khirbet Khallet Makhul, which lies east of Tammun and about half a kilometer west of the settlement of Hemdat, in the Jordan Valley. According to the ten-family community, which consists of sixty members, including 25 minors, they have lived at the site for dozens of years and make their living off grazing flocks. All their structures were demolished, and they have since been sleeping in the open, with no shelter for themselves or for their livestock.
Civil Administration bulldozers at the site of Khallet Makhul. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 16 September 2013.
On 25 August 2013, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by community members to settle the legal status of all the structures they had built. In its ruling, the Court noted that the petition was to be rejected outright both for technical reasons, because it included 21 separate petitioners who do not share the same interest, and because they Court accepted the position of the respondents – the sub-committee for supervising construction in the Civil Administration, the Commander of Armed Forces in Judea and Samaria, and the Legal Adviser for Judea and Samaria – that the requests for building permits submitted by the petitioners were faulty and did not include documents proving their affiliation with the land.
Since the demolition, the army has prevented all attempts by community members and international aid agencies to erect tents and provide shelter. As of 22 Sept. 2013 – almost a week after the original demolition, the community members and their livestock have nowhere to live and are without shelter. Military forces are present in increased numbers near Khallet Makhul, apparently in order to prevent any further attempts to supply the community with tents or other equipment.
The demolition of this community’s entire infrastructure is part of Israel’s longstanding policy towards shepherd communities in the Jordan Valley. To promote that policy, the Civil Administration takes various measures to prevent the communities from staying in place and using the land:
- Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley are barred access to most of the area on various grounds: “closed military zone” encompass military firing zones and areas inside the settlements' municipal boundaries, nature reserves or state land. Palestinians are forbidden to stay, build structures or graze flocks in these areas, which amount to approximately 85% of the Jordan Valley (excluding overlap).
- In the limited areas left to Palestinians, the Civil Administration has refrained from drawing up outline plans for the Palestinian communities living there. When they build structures without permits – having no other choice – the Administration issues demolition orders for the structures, some of which are executed. B’Tselem’s figures show that, from the beginning of 2006 to the end of April 2013, the Civil Administration demolished at least 315 residential units in Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, which housed at least 1,577 people, including at least 658 minors. For 225 of these people (including 102 minors), this was at least the second time that their home had been demolished. An unknown number of structures used for agriculture was also demolished.
- In addition to being barred from legal construction by the Civil Administration, the Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley are usually also not connected to the water grid. They depend on the area’s sparse rainwater, which they collect in cisterns, and on buying water from private providers, who charge a very high price. As a result of this policy, the average water consumption in these communities is just 20 liters per capita a day, a far cry from the 100 liters per capita a day recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Since the summer of 2012, the military periodically orders a temporary evacuation of the communities that live in areas declared firing zones in the Jordan Valley, citing maneuvers as the reason. In evacuation orders handed to the communities, they were required to leave their residences for periods ranging from several hours to two days, with the note that if they did not comply, they would be forcefully evicted and their livestock confiscated, and they would be billed for the expenses of the eviction. By the end of May 2013, at least 20 such incidents took place.
This policy of removing the Palestinian population from the Jordan Valley is aimed, among other things, at establishing Israeli control of the area and annexing it de-facto to Israel, while exploiting its resources and minimizing Palestinian presence there. In the long-term, this is intended to ensure Israeli presence in the area, even within the framework of a diplomatic agreement.
Residents of Khallet Makhul next to their demolished homes. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 16 September 2013.
As the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel must enable the local residents to lead their daily lives. This includes enabling them to build homes legally and to use the water sources to which they are entitled. In addition, in the recent demolition at Khallet Makhul, the military even refused to allow the residents to rebuild their homes, and barred all humanitarian aid from reaching them, thus effectively sentencing the community to expulsion from their homes. However, expelling residents from their homes in an occupied territory is only permitted by international law under exceptional circumstances, such as urgent military necessity or protecting the local population. Even then, strict conditions apply: the expulsion must be temporary and the residents must be provided with reasonable alternative accommodation, to the extent possible, until they can return to their homes. In any case, the residents must be allowed to return home as soon as possible. Clearly, the expulsion of the residents of Khallet Makhul does not meet with any of these requirements, and no alternative solution has been offered them, in breach of Israel’s duties under international humanitarian law.
B’Tselem calls on the relevant Israeli authorities to enable the residents of Khallet Makhul to rebuild their homes and to continue graze their flocks, as they have done for decades, on the land from which the military is attempting to expel them.