The day the bulldozers came...
West Bank farmer Mahmoud al-'Alam won't forget the day Israeli army bulldozers cut off his water supply... and destroyed his livelihood.
The village of Beit Ula, where Mahmoud lives, is not connected to the Palestinian water network. Instead the community, located north-west of Hebron, relies on rainwater, which it collects and stores in pots dug in the ground, known as cisterns.
The nine new cisterns built in 2006 as part of a European Union-funded project to improve food security became the pride of the village. The cisterns were vital to the survival of the nine families that used them… until the bulldozers arrived.
"[The Israeli army] destroyed everything; they went up and down several times
with the bulldozer and uprooted everything," recalls Mahmoud al-'Alam.
In a few hours, years of hard work had been undone. The cisterns had been built with the help of two local nongovernmental organizations, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and the Palestinian Hydrology Group.
The cisterns provided water for 3,200 newly planted trees including olive, almond, lemon and fig trees. The farmers had also contributed a significant portion of the overall cost of the project.
“We invested a lot of money and worked very hard," said Mahmoud al-'Alam. "This is good land and it was a very good project. We put a lot of thought into how to shape the terraces and build the cisterns in the best way, to make the best use of the land, and we planted trees which need little water… the saplings were growing well..."
The story of Beit Ula is one of many cases where Israeli forces have targeted Palestinian communities in the region.
On 4 June 2009, the Israeli army destroyed the homes and livestock pens of 18
Palestinian families in Ras al-Ahmar, a hamlet in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank.
More than 130 people were affected, many of them children. Crucially, the soldiers
confiscated the water tank, tractor and trailer used by the villagers to bring in water. They were left without shelter or a water supply at the hottest time of the year.
On 28 July 2007, Israeli soldiers at a military checkpoint confiscated the tractor and water tanker of Ahmad Abdallah Bani Odeh, a villager from the hamlet of Humsa.
An Israeli army official told Amnesty International that the vital items were being confiscated in an attempt to force the villagers from the area, which the army had declared a “closed military area”.
In another village, a rainwater harvesting cistern belonging to Palestinian villagers was destroyed by the Israeli army under the pretext that it was built without a permit. Permits for water projects have to be obtained from the Israeli authorities but are rarely granted to Palestinians.
In recent years the homes of Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley have been repeatedly destroyed and their water tankers confiscated.
Each time, the homes – tents and simple shacks made of metal and plastic sheets – are rebuilt. Because of the villagers’ determination to remain on their land despite extremely harsh living conditions, the Israeli army has increasingly restricted their access to water as a way of forcing them to abandon the area.
In’am Bisharat, a mother of seven from the village of Hadidiya, told Amnesty International: “We live in the harshest conditions, without water, electricity or any services.
"The lack of water is the biggest problem. The men spend most of the day…[going] to get water and they can’t always bring it. But we have no choice. We need a little bit of water to survive and to keep the sheep alive. Without water there is no life.
"The [Israeli] army has cut us off from everywhere…We don’t choose to live like this; we would also like to have beautiful homes and gardens and farms, but these privileges are only for the Israeli settlers… we are not even allowed basic services.”
The lack of water has already forced many Palestinians to leave the Jordan Valley and the survival of the communities is increasingly threatened. In Beit Ula, Mahmoud al-'Alam's livelihood is similarly at risk.
"It is very painful for me every time to come here and see the destruction; everything we worked for is gone. Why would anyone want to do this? What good can come from [it]?” he asks.