On the morning of 21 May 2014, five Civil Administration bulldozers accompanied by a considerable force of military and Border Police personnel arrived at the Palestinian community of Id’eis. Located near the village of al-Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley, Id’eis consists of 23 families living in two neighboring compounds. The southern compound is home to 10 families – a total of 53 individuals, including 28 children – living in 14 tents. These families own approximately 4,500 sheep and goats, housed in some 25 structures. The troops approached the southern compound and informed its residents they have half an hour to gather all their belongings before all tents and structures would be demolished. After the time was up, the bulldozers proceeded to raze the 14 living tents and 25 livestock structures. They also damaged roughly 45 meters of pipes that carry water to the community from a nearby well, which was undergoing repair. The short notice did not leave the residents enough time to take most of the livestock gear and feed from the pens, so they were nearly all ruined.
Ne’meh Id’eis, 56, a resident of the community and mother of four, described the demolition in her testimony to B’Tselem field researcher ‘Atef Abu a-Rub:
Many soldiers, big tractors, police and cars blocked off the lands around us. They ordered us to get our belongings out of our homes, and in less than half an hour they demolished everything. They left nothing. The little children and the lambs stood in the sun or under trees. All our personal belongings were outside, and the tractors scraped through and destroyed all our structures. They left no stone unturned. They left us no roof to shelter under. We were left outside with nothing. They even destroyed the stone oven I use to bake bread for the children. I asked them to leave it for us so we could eat, but it was like talking to a wall.
In just a few hours, the place was in ruins, I swear, like a war zone. The army and tractors left, and then the journalists came and everyone wanted to get pictures of the place.
That night, the residents of the southern compound slept out in the open. The next day, when they tried to reconstruct some of their tents, soldiers returned and threatened to confiscate the tents and other remaining gear. Ultimately, nothing was confiscated. The Red Crescent provided the residents mattresses and nine small, simple tents. The families are currently living in those tents, but they are so crowded that the men sleep out in the open. Residents who own livestock used pieces from the wreckage to construct temporary pens, until another solution is found.
Ne’meh Id’eis described the aftermath of the demolition:
People from the Palestinian Authority visited us but as you can see, no one gave us anything apart from these small tents. They’re barely enough to protect the women and children at night from pests, snakes and rodents. The tents are too small, so the men have to sleep outside, and two families live in each tent. Before the demolition, we had several toilets in the living area, and no one had to wait in line to use the toilet.
Before demolishing our homes and sheds they cut the power cable and left us with no electricity. Living without electricity is hard and scary. We had refrigerators, TVs, washing machines, and we could see where we were walking at night. Now, we have one cable connected to the neighbors, which we use to power one refrigerator so we have cold drinking water. The water in the containers that are outside the refrigerator is boiling hot. We have one washing machine and one lamp for nighttime. Living without lighting at night isn’t easy, especially because after the demolition, no one knows what they’re about to step on.
I manage to sleep only when I’m completely exhausted. My mind keeps racing. For three days after the demolition, none of the children could shower. You can feel how hot the weather is. What did the children do to deserve not having a shower? Finally, yesterday and today, the women bathed the children and we ran the washing machine. We’re doing it gradually.
The community first received stop-work orders some four years ago. Consequently, the residents, represented by Att. Tawfiq Jabareen, entered legal proceedings against the Civil Administration; the proceedings are still underway. The last petition on the matter was filed before Israel’s High Court of Justice on 26 May 2013 and rejected on 30 April 2014, on grounds that the petition included different appellants whose cases were not identical, and that the court accepted the position of the respondents – the Civil Administration Subcommittee for Supervision of Building, the Commander of the IDF Forces in Judea and Samaria, and the Legal Advisor for Judea and Samaria – that the requests submitted by the petitioners for building permits were faulty and did not include documents proving their claim to the land. The justices noted that they had taken into account the respondents’ argument that the sole purpose of the petition “to stall for time while the illegal structures built by the petitioners remain standing”, noting that “indeed, the Court cannot be used to permit illegality”. The High Court of Justice not only rejected by petition, but also imposed on the petitioners 15,000 NIS (approx. 4,300 USD) in court and attorney fees.
Following the demolition of the southern compound on 21 May 2014, Att. Jabareen re-petitioned the Court on 27 May 2014, seeking an order that the existing structures in the north-west compound, or any structures be rebuilt in the community, not be demolished. On the same day, the High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction freezing all demolition warrants and ordered the state to submit a preliminary response by 13 July 2014.
The community of Id’eis has been at its current location since 1982. Its members are originally from the Hebron area, and they make a living from shepherding. The community began wandering from one location to another in the Jordan Valley about forty years ago, in search of pastureland. Since settling at the present location, they have remained there year-round.
The community comprises 23 families. In addition to the ten families living in the southern compound, which was entirely demolished, thirteen other families live in the north-west compound, for whose structures the Civil Administration has also issued demolition orders. Seventy-five people, including 44 children, live in 15 residential structures in the north-west compound. The families also have at least 17 pens and structures used for raising their flock of roughly 3,500 sheep and goats.
The community is not connected to the water network, and relies on the local well and on purchasing water from the neighboring village of al-Jiftlik. The children attend also go to school at the al-Jiftlik, which is approximately three kilometers distant, and get there by car or on foot.
The attempts to expel the community from its place of residence are part of efforts by the Israeli authorities to expel thousands of Palestinians from their homes on various pretexts, from dozens of communities scattered throughout Area C. Apart from Id’eis, the Civil Administration is trying to force some 2,700 Palestinians living in dozens of shepherding communities in the Jordan Valley to leave the area, by such means as repeatedly demolishing their homes, evacuating them for short periods for military training in the area, and confiscating water tanks.
The Civil Administration is planning to establish “permanent sites” and relocate all the communities scattered throughout Area C to them. The Civil Administration contends that the object of the plan is to improve the quality of life of these communities and provide them with proper housing. That said, the plan was prepared without consulting the residents, the fact that it entails a drastic change of lifestyle and work opportunities, notwithstanding. According to media reports, the planned sites are all urban, so that it residents will be hard put to continue making a living from farming and shepherding.
As the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel is obliged to allow local residents to continue their lifestyle, including enabling them to build homes legally. Expelling residents from their homes in an occupied territory is permitted only under extreme circumstances, when crucial due to a pressing military need or for protecting the safety of the local population. Even then, the expulsion must be temporary, and residents must be provided, to the extent possible, with alternative housing in reasonable conditions. It is clear that the expulsion of the Id’eis community does not meet any of these criteria. Moreover, no authority has provided these individuals with an adequate housing alternative to enable them to maintain their lifestyle: if expelled from their current site, they will remain homeless and bereft of options to earn a living. B’Tselem calls on the relevant authorities to enable the community of Id’eis to remain unharassed in its place of residence and to allow the residents to continue grazing their flocks there, as they have done for the last thirty years.