Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Refugees for the Second Time: The Forced Eviction of Palestinian Villagers from Khirbet Qassa

I quote in full the piece written by Ahmad Jaradat and Anahi Ayala Iacucci, of the Alternative Information Center (AIC) here

"Beit Jibrin was a small village with a long history, located in the territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Despite this, it was captured on 27 October 1948, by Israel’s Givati Brigade during the last stage of Operation Yoav, an Israeli offensive of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

"Beit Jibrin, which was already hosting many Palestinian refugees from neighboring villages that had been caught in earlier fighting, was attacked by Israeli forces from both the land and air. In order to escape the fighting, the villagers sought shelter in the surrounding hills. Some families found protection in caves five kilometers to the east of the village, leaving everything in their homes and hoping to return after a few days when the attack would be over.

"The Israelis, however, did not allow them to return. Several men of Beit Jibrin were killed when they tried to go back. In one incident, two men were killed when they attempted to come back to the village to gather wheat, food, clothing and other necessary items. The Israeli military had mined the village paths, and the two men stepped on a mine planted directly in front of their house, causing the walls of the house to collapse on top of them.

"After a series of these incidents, the families of Beit Jibrin lost hope of returning home. A portion of them joined a refugee camp located eight kilometres to the south of Hebron, and some of them relocated to the village of Khirbet Qassa.

"Khirbet Qassa is located inside the occupied West Bank near the Green Line, to the northwest of Idna village on the western end of the Hebron District. The village encompasses 500 dunam and has a population of 267, including 120 children less than 16 years of age. At present, almost half of Khirbet Qassa’s population are registered as refugees holding UNRWA cards. The villagers live in tents and caves and make a living from raising sheep and goat.

"Israeli construction of the Separation Wall in the area of the village has disconnected it from the rest of the West Bank. According to the Israeli government’s plans for the Separation Wall, this village will remain isolated, on the Israeli side of the Wall. The new Tarkumiya Israeli military checkpoint is being built adjacent to the village.

"Since the beginning of the Wall’s construction, the Israeli military has harassed the residents of Khirbet Qassa and denied them access to grazing grounds and other facilities that lie on the other side of the barrier.

"Yet, this is not the sum total of troubles for the residents of Khirbet Qassa. For them, the Nakba is an ongoing process, and, once more, 50 years after they lost their homes in Beit Jibrin, they have once again become refugees in their own land.

"About a year and a half ago, the Israeli military sent warnings to the residents of Khirbet Qassa that they intended to demolish their homes, on the grounds that they were built without a permit. Half a year later, many soldiers and a high officer of the Israeli Army paid a visit to the families, handing some of them military orders that stated their houses were built without proper licensing and they must legalize their situation.

"On 25 October 2007, the military placed demolition orders under stones at the entrance of the village. On 29 October, at eight in the morning, Israeli soldiers entered the village in jeeps and bulldozers began to demolish tents and caves without giving the residents time to remove their possessions.[i] According to testimonies, the soldiers beat a villager who tried to protect his flock, which he kept in one of the caves. Only after one officer intervened was the villager allowed to evacuate his livestock. The military then loaded the village’s water containers and feeding troughs onto a truck and deposited them beyond the Wall.

"Sixty-two-year-old resident of the village and refugee of 1948, ‘Abd al-Halim ‘Abd al-Qadr Muhammad a-Natah, who is married and the father of eleven children, said, “The soldiers destroyed the tents, the shelters, and all the food and drink of the sheep and goats, 142 feeding troughs and 72 water containers. The soldiers threw all the things onto a truck and took them far from the village. They did not give us time to take our things. They destroyed everything, including our clothes and our kitchen utensils.”

"Tens of farmers and villagers, who spent most of their life looking after their trees, their animals and their land, were made to stand aside and watch it be carted away or demolished. Every tree uprooted was the uprooting of history—of all the time spent in the field, of all the work and the hopes that were contained in their branches, leaves and roots. In just a few hours, everything was gone—the past, present, and future of each village resident was ravaged.

"The soldiers and bulldozers departed around three in the afternoon, leaving the villagers alone with their desperation: women crying; men standing, perplexed, not knowing what to do. All the villagers were in shock.

"Twenty-three-year-old Tamer Taleb Ahmad a-Natah, a local farmer, stated, “We waited for the media and human rights organizations. Palestinian TV crews and a crew from al-Jazeera came, but the Israeli military didn't let them go to the village. People from the Red Cross came and inspected the ruins. At night, we slept out in the open.”

"The following morning, the children of the village didn’t go to school. Everyone in the village thought that they should remain and repair what the bulldozers had destroyed. Around noon, however, about fifteen jeeps from the Israeli Nature Reserves Authority pulled up, threatening to arrest the residents and confiscate their flocks if they didn’t leave immediately. Villagers attempted to reason with the authorities, arguing that they had lived in Khirbet Qassa for decades and had no other place to go. In the end, however, the villagers were forced into military vehicles and Israeli authorities were stationed around the village until the last of the residents had been removed.

"Almost 300 residents are now without a place where to live. An old man sadly said, “In 1948 they committed massacres to force us to leave our villages, walking and running away. This time they brought cars. Next time I think they will take us by using planes. This occupation started deporting us and continues doing it.”

"Some of the families who were transferred have now moved into the village of Idna and the nearby town of Dahriyya, but they say that this is only temporary, until they find a more permanent residence. The citizens of Khirbet Qassa have already presented their case to the Israeli legal advisor at Beit El through the office of the Palestinian Land Defense Committees in Hebron. Yet, up to the present, no tangible results have been achieved.

"The real question at this point is, however: Will there be any place they can stay? It seems there is no place in all the West Bank where Palestinians are permitted to live their life in dignity. If it isn’t the Wall, it’s a settlement; if it isn’t a settlement, it’s a military base; if it isn’t a military base, it’s a checkpoint. For Israel, it appears that the only solution to this conflict is the total eviction of the Palestinian population from the land, and all the while, the international community remains, as always, blind to the ongoing Israeli crimes."

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