Palestinian homes at risk in occupied West Bank

Five families in the West Bank hamlet of Hadidiya are under threat of immediate eviction. At least 12 others are fighting eviction and demolition orders in the Jordan Valley area.

In total, more than 150 people, many of them children, risk losing their home and being evicted from the area.

The Israeli army destroyed the homes of 18 Palestinian families and their animal pens in the nearby hamlet of Ras al-Ahmar on Thursday morning. More than 130 people, many of them children, lived in the hamlet.

The soldiers also confiscated a water tank, a tractor and a trailer, which the villagers used to bring water from several kilometres away. They are not allowed access to local wells. The villagers are now without shelter and a source of water during a season of high temperatures.

Many of these families have had their homes destroyed multiple times in recent years and all of them face the prospect of further displacement because the Israeli army has declared the area, and most of the Jordan Valley, a “closed military area” from which the local Palestinian population is barred.

While these Palestinian communities continue to be harassed and chased off their land, nearby Israeli settlements – established in violation of international law – continue to expand.

Next to Ras al-Ahmar and Hadidiya are three Israeli settlements which use vast quantities of water for their ever-expanding agricultural farms. The Hemdat settlement, established in 1997, has “nice, large buildings with red roofs” built by the Israeli Housing Ministry and Ro’i settlement boasts a swimming pool.

Successive Israeli governments from across the political spectrum have all backed construction and expansion of unlawful settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Under the last government of Prime Minister Olmert, settlement expansion increased seven-fold, especially after the November 2007 Annapolis conference, which was supposed to restart the peace process.

US President Obama, speaking in Cairo on Thursday as part of his tour of the Middle East, reiterated his call on Israel to stop building settlements in the OPT. Amnesty International welcomed this call.

“President Obama’s administration must put in place concrete mechanisms to ensure the timely implementation of this commitment and an end to the increasingly frequent demolition of Palestinian homes,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the OPT.

Amnesty International advocates the removal of all settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel’s settlement policy directly violates international law. In addition, the seizure of land to construct settlements, bypass roads and related infrastructure, and the discriminatory allocation of vital resources, including water, have had a devastating impact on the fundamental rights of the local Palestinian population.

House demolition, like the denial of access to land and water, has long been used by the Israeli army and authorities to force the local Palestinian population off the land. In Hadidiya, Ras al-Ahmar and elsewhere in the Jordan Valley, after each demolition, the families rebuild their homes either in the same place or nearby, but they are now finding it increasingly difficult to survive in the area.

The Israeli army is making increasing efforts to force local Palestinian communities out of large areas of the Jordan Valley. In addition to the periodic demolition of the Palestinian villagers’ homes and animal pens, the Israeli army also uses other methods to push the villagers out of the area.

The Israeli army has denied them access to water, increasingly restricted their movements and confiscated their animals, which are their main source of livelihood.

Though they are very isolated, the villagers are determined to remain in the area where they have lived since long before the Israeli army occupied the OPT in 1967. They have welcomed international solidarity and pressure on the Israeli authorities to protest the demolitions. However, as international attention diminishes the threat to the villagers increases and renewed action now is crucial.