Saturday, September 23, 2017

The everyday toll of demolitions in Jiftlik


By Beth Staton - June 30, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Jordan Valley] [House Demolition] [agriculture] [Displacement] [Area C]

With fertile soils, a temperate climate and plentiful water, the Jordan Valley holds enormous potential for anyone living there.

For many Palestinians around Jiftlik, however, life in what could be the “breadbasket” of Palestine has become close to unbearable. In windowless homes of corrugated iron and plastic sheeting, there is no respite from the 45 degree heat. Maintaining an income through farming is a struggle, and the constant threat of home demolitions means insecurity has become the new norm. In 2013, 390 Palestinian structures were destroyed by Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, displacing 690 people – nearly double the amount from the previous year.

Located in Area C, Jiftlik and its surroundings are under full Israeli control and host a population of nearly 10,000 settlers, living in residential communities, farms and military bases. Like all of those in occupied Palestinian territory, these settlements are illegal under international law. But it’s the Palestinians living in the area who are paying the price for their existence.

One of those is Walid, a 33-year-old father of four, Precarity is built into the breezeblocks of his home, a squat, rectangular shack about 5km from Jiftlik’s center, designed to provide for survival only until the next bulldozers arrive. It’s his third build in two years; the wreckage of the last house, demolished by Israeli authorities, is still in a mangled heap a few dozen metres away.

“If we are still here after one year, it will be a good outcome,” Walid told Palestine Monitor. “The first time our house was totally destroyed was in March 2012. After they destroyed the house, they destroyed the animal barracks over the animals, while they were inside. Sadly, we were unable to save all of them.”

The second demolition, the following year, was at 7 in the morning.  “We were sleeping,” he explained. “They came to the house and said, 'you have half an hour to leave’. We didn’t have time to collect all our belongings.”

Walid’s story, according to Mustaser Mansour, a doctor at the clinic in Jiftlik, is not unusual. “When they destroyed a neighbour’s house they didn’t let him go in to get his things at all, even though he begged them to allow him to take some games for his children.” Mansour told Palestine Monitor. “When I looked at the children that time, my tears were drawn from my eyes.”

Systematic discrimination

This situation is hardly unusual. Some 87% of the Jordan Valley, where Jiftlik and its surrounding villages are located, is  in Area C. For Palestinians, getting a permit to build in these areas is near impossible. Just last month, some 35 structures were demolished in the village for being without a permit, leaving 67 people homeless.

“The chance for Palestinians to get a permit to build in Area C is the same as the chance I have to travel from here to England through Ben Gurion Airport,” said Hamza Zbeidat, a project coordinator at Ma’an Development Agency. “It’s impossible. They simply don’t give permission for Palestinians to build in Area C.

“That doesn’t mean that people do not build at all, though,” Zbeidat said. “In the Jiftlik village, for example, they do not give proper permits, and people have started building anyway. But these do not have permission, and they could be demolished at any time.”

Walid’s current home offers little in the way of security. He’s terrified it will be brought down over his few belongings, and in the desperate hope that it will make it less conspicuous, has avoided adding any crucial additions to the building. While changes would improve the family’s quality of life, he’s afraid to make them. “The two houses that were destroyed were better than this house, and we can’t afford to build something only to have it knocked down again,” he said.

The family’s newest addition, three-month-old Alaa, is bearing the worst of the situation. Thanks to the conditions of the makeshift home she has developed an acute respiratory condition, and her tiny body is wracked by an insistent cough that her older siblings’ cuddles and care are powerless to alleviate.

“My children dream only to eat, to drink and to sleep,” Walid says. “ I cannot tell my children to hope for anything else, or they will be depressed.”

Poor harvest

Though they may be the most visible, demolitions aren’t the only calamity brought by the occupation. From September to June, Walid explains, surrounding settlements prevented his farm animals from grazing. Israeli military live-fire zones close to his home mean he is afraid that taking his animals to new pastures will mean getting shot. And because Israel controls some 95% of the Jordan Valley, the National Water Company controls distribution of resources to both settlements and Palestinian communities.

“You can see the difference everywhere you go in the Jordan Valley,” Zbeidat said. “On one side you have the settlements, with all these stunning flowers, it’s like Europe in the desert. And on the other are the Palestinian communities, which are grey. Nothing can grow without water.”

The difficulty in farming often comes down to something as seemingly simple as a lack of access. “The settlements prevent Palestinians from grazing their animals on the land,” Zbeidat continues. “One settlement, a military training facility for the religious soldiers., stops farmers being able to take their animals to the mountain to graze. the Jordan Valley used to be the breadbasket of Palestine, but now the breadbasket is the Tubas area. People here are not making their own economy.”

For Walid, the difficulty in finding plentiful food is exacerbated by the high cost of the feed he must buy for his animals. Like many farmers in the area, he feels unhappy at the lack of subsidy or support from the Palestinian Authority, and is often forced to sell some of his sheep in order to be able to feed the rest of the flock.

“The Palestinian Authority do not give us any help,” he said, citing as evidence the vast difference between the budget allocated for agriculture – which in previous years has hovered at less than 1% – and the budget for security, which came in at 27% in 2014. “How can this be when we have no security? We don’t want anything from the authority. We just want a simple life, a place to sleep, enough to eat, and enough to drink.

“Every day that passes is worse than the last,” Walid says, gesturing around the dim room where he and his family live.  His four children – all under seven years old – play outside in the remains of other buildings. “You ask what I hope for the future. What future?”

 

*Names have been changed to protect identities 

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