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Testimony: Army demolishes village housing over 200 Palestinians, west of the Barrier, Oct. 2007

Tamer a-Natah, 23

Tamer a-Natah

Until they expelled us, we lived in Khirbet Qassa, which lies two kilometers east of the Green Line and three kilometers west of Idhna . In addition to my family, which had been expelled from Beit Jibrin in 1948, two other families lived in the village: al-Waridat, from a-Dhahiriyah, and a-Tamizi, from Idhna .

Ever since my family arrived in the village, it has raised sheep and goats. The families in the village have about 4,000 head of livestock. It was our main source of livelihood. The village had about 250 men, women, and children. About two-thirds were children. Forty children studied in school in Idhna and some at university. We used to go to Idhna by tractor or donkey to do our shopping. Nobody stopped us or asked any questions. We were content. My family led a stable life in the village until we were forced to leave.

Three years ago, the Israeli army began to build the separation barrier and the new Tarkumiya checkpoint, leaving Khirbet Qassa on the other side of the barrier, about ten meters from it. Since then, the army started restricting our movement and trying to prevent us from getting to the village. The soldiers stopped me more than once and summoned me to interrogation by the Shabak (ISA), but I didn't go.

A year and a half ago, the Israeli army warned us that they were going to demolish the village. We ignored the warnings and continued to lead a normal life. Later, bulldozers came and caused us light damage, to frighten us. We continued to live in the village despite the problems, until the army finished building the barrier, a few days ago. When the barrier was completed, the army took harsher measures against us. On the 25 th of October, the Israeli army delivered demolition orders to us.

On the 29 th , at eight in the morning, I was in the village. Dozens of army, Border Police, and Civil Administration vehicles came into the village. Two bulldozers, a crane, trucks and workers were also with them. Nobody said anything to us. The bulldozers just started demolishing the tents and shelters and the feeding troughs. We had to save the lambs and young goats. My brother '‘Amer, 25, stood between the animals and the bulldozer to protect them. One of the soldiers hit and kicked him to get him to move. The officer intervened and asked the driver of the bulldozer to stop for a few minutes so that '‘Amer could remove the animals. After that, the two bulldozers continued their work, until nothing remained. They damaged about thirty tents, six open-sided shelters built of stone with thick-cloth roofs, and more than ten shelters that were used for the flocks. They used rocks to seal the entrances of more than twelve caves that the people and the livestock lived in. The bulldozers destroyed the fodder warehouse and grain warehouse, spreading all the fodder and grains all over the ground. The crane put all the livestock's food vessels onto the truck and it drove away.

Later, I learned that the trucks had thrown all our troughs and possessions onto the other side of the Tarkumiya checkpoint. Most of our things were destroyed, and we could only repair a few of them. The action continued until three o'clock. The army told us to leave, along with our flocks, by noon the next day. The soldiers and bulldozers left, leaving us to cry over our fate and the damage. We considered barricading ourselves there. The women were crying all the time, and the men stood there perplexed, not knowing what to do. We were in shock.

We waited for the media and human rights organizations. Palestinian TV crews and a crew from al-Jazeera came, but the Israeli army didn't let them go to the village. People from the Red Cross came and inspected the ruins. At night, we slept in the open.

The following morning, the children didn't go to school. We thought we could stay there and repair what the bulldozers had destroyed. Around noon, about fifteen Nature Reserves' Authority jeeps pulled up. They threatened to arrest us and confiscate our flocks if we didn't leave immediately. We explained to them that we had lived here for decades and had no other place to go, but they were not convinced. They insisted that we go away, and waited there until we all left.

I walked with my brothers and the flock until we got to a house at the edge of Idhna . The house belongs to the Tamizi family. We rented a shelter from them for our flock and a house under construction for us to live in temporarily, until we could find a permanent place to live. All the families found temporary housing. The Waridat family returned to a-Dhahiriyah. My family doesn't have any land or houses outside the village, so we are suffering greatly.

I think our losses amount to tens of thousands of shekels, but the emotional pain and the feeling of instability cannot be measured. We don't know what the future will bring.

Tamer Taleb Ahmad a-Natah, 23, is a farmer and a resident of Khirbet Qassa in Hebron District. His testimony was given to Musa Abu Hashhash, in Idhna on 4 November 2007.