destruction of homes and lives
Over the last two weeks, groups of diplomats who have funded tents, sheds, latrines and water containers in this community have been visiting to bear witness and to state their opposition to the actions of the Israeli authorities, who have been confiscating and demolishing with increasing intensity in the community since November 2020.
During these visits tents and water tanks were confiscated and demolished, soldiers arrived and questioned the motives of the visitors. Humanitarian organisations, including MdM, were blocked from entering the community.
It was clear that even with diplomatic presence, the Israeli forces felt no need to curtail or hide their actions which seek to create an unliveable situation for these people, and which ultimately seeks to force them to transfer elsewhere
The governments which these diplomats represent have been expressing ‘grave concern’ to the government of Israel over these demolitions, but inaction and a lack of mandate to go further from their own capitals are forcing their diplomats to ultimately be helpless bystanders to war crimes happening directly in front of their eyes.
It was a clear demonstration by the Israeli authorities that these statements and expressions are worthless, and that they are willing to carry on, and carry out, these confiscations and demolitions in plain daylight, in front of their critics, without fear of any meaningful repercussions.
The international community has an obligation to take real and concrete measures to protect them
It was painful to watch the shelters being taken away and demolished in front of those who are supposed to have the power to protect these people. What was the outcome of this visit, if after the community feel helpless, abandoned and alone?
The international community has an obligation not only to remind Israel of its responsibility to protect the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people under international law, but to also take real and concrete measures to protect them. Without clear action from the international community, we are effectively asking this and other Palestinian communities to go through continuous and never-ending cycles of violence and trauma.
Supplying tents, shelters and other materials is pointless if they will be confiscated and demolished in a few weeks’ time, putting the community once again through a frightening and stressful ordeal. It is a stark reminder that sustainable development can only thrive where international human rights law and international humanitarian law violations are not constantly hampering it.
"We have nothing left"
Médecins du Monde, and our team of Palestinian social workers and psychologists have been working in Humsa Al Bqai’a for over 5 years, specifically providing emergency mental health and psychological support to this vulnerable Bedouin community following demolitions. The fact that we have been present in the community for so long is symbolic of the repetitive nature of the demolitions and threats, which they have been facing for many years.
One of the female community members we met and spoke with following the second wave of demolitions which started on the 8th February, leaving 61 people, including 33 minors without shelter and other basic amenities, described the serious difficulties she, and especially her children were now facing, ‘We are living outside, the children are getting sick, they have to sleep outside and play outside, they are not protected from the sun in the day and the cold at night. They didn’t just destroy things, they took them, we have nothing. The bulldozers were coming every day, our livelihoods are destroyed, our water is destroyed, we have nothing. The children are scared of every car that comes, they think it is soldiers coming to attack us or destroy what we have left. Others are having panic attacks. We don’t know what we are supposed to do anymore.'
The first wave of demolitions in November 2020 already had an immense physical and psychological toll on the community, leaving at that time 74 people in total, 41 of them minors homeless as winter set in and in the midst of a global pandemic.
One woman, who was displaced to a nearby village of Abu Kbash, described to our team from her difficult and crowded living space, the immense destress of that night, when the soldiers came and took everything without any warning, ‘I have a 9 month old baby, I wanted to protect her in the car and help my husband to collect as many things as possible. Suddenly I saw a soldier jump in the car: they wanted to take and destroy the car with my baby inside. We started to cry with all our force to them to stop. I was so scared to not to see my baby alive again.’
A systematic process of destruction
The continuous destruction of Humsa Al Bqai’a is unfortunately not unique, but a symptom of a chronic and systematic process which aims to create an unlivable environment for Palestinian communities, forcing them to relocate to other areas. Forcible transfer is a grave breach of international law and whether this community leaves either by force, or through the creation of a situation where they can no longer stay on their land, the result is the same.
During the past weeks, our teams have not only responded to the repeated demolitions in Humsa Al Bqai’a, but also in other communities in the Jordan Valley. Khirbet Yarza also in the Jordan Valley, faced its second demolition in less than 6 months. It affected two families, including 5 children.
This has had a profound effect on the mental health of these families. ‘This second demolition has had a very serious effect on the mental wellbeing of this community, they have a lot of intrusive thoughts, they are struggling to work and look after the children, and they have a lot of fear for the future. Their stress and anxiety are extremely high and it is even creating problems between them and other families in the community’, described Mohammed Atta Shouman, one of our social workers, after his intervention with the family.
Settlements and Annexation in Palestine
What connects these communities is not only their location in Area C of the West Bank, where building permits are almost, if not impossible, to obtain from Israel authorities, they are also in close proximity to large illegal Israeli settlements which has significant impact on the psychosocial well-being and the mental health of the Palestinian populations which neighbor them.
Attacks on neighboring Palestinians by the settlers are usual, with harassment, beatings, stoning, shootings, damage to housing, and destruction of crops being common occurrences. Many Palestinian communities we work with suffer from acute stress and find it difficult to have mental wellbeing.
Further, the location of these communities in the proposed annexation areas, which the Israeli government announced following elections in March 2020, is no coincidence. Despite the Israeli government announcing last year that annexation would not happen following the normalization agreement with Bahrain, it remains clear to those living and working in the Jordan Valley than de facto annexation is indeed a very clear reality.
No reaction from the international community
So far, the international community has shirked its duty to obligate Israel to uphold the human rights of the Palestinians subjected to its control, making do with feeble remonstrations. This latest spate of demolitions is a test of the international community’s commitment to its own laws and to the values it professes to cherish.
The international community must resort to appropriate measures to bring Israel into compliance with its international obligations and demand restitution or compensation from the Government of Israel for the demolition or confiscation of Palestinian property funded by international donors. Statements of condemnation, of ‘grave concern’ are no longer enough - this is evident now more than ever.
Rapid action must be taken at a European and capital level that will ensure that these Palestinian communities which are facing endless waves of destruction and violence, have real and concrete protection to stay in their homes and on their land, without fear to raise their children and live in peace.