PHOTO BLOG: Lost in the wilderness

By EA Katherine, Southern West Bank.

What is it like to get a legal notice telling you that your only source of water is going to be demolished? For people living on the edge of the Bethlehem wilderness, the first challenge is to find the demolition orders before the deadline for submitting an appeal against them runs out.  EA Katherine went searching with the director of one village council.

On 5 May 2016, Tayseer Abu Mfreh, the Director of Tuqu’ Municipality in the occupied West Bank, heard that a demolition order issued by the Israeli military had been found on a well at the edge of his village. With 20 wells in the area he was worried there might be more, and invited EAs to join him driving into the Bethlehem wilderness to check.

We stopped first to see Mohammad Mousa Jibrene, whose family of ten have lived in these tents for nine years. He showed us the demolition order that had been left on their well two days before.

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Mohammad pointed to the Israeli settlement in the distance, saying its residents have been complaining to the Israeli military about his well because they don’t want to look out at other people living on the land. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and articles 52 and 23(g) of the Hague Regulations prohibit an occupying power from destroying or expropriating private property and land.

The settlement comes under Israeli civil law and doesn’t face the same restrictions on development as the Palestinian village of Tuqu’, which comes under Israeli military law. This contravenes Israel’s obligation in articles 3, 13 and 27 of Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure non-discrimination between the occupier and occupied.  Settlements themselves are illegal under article 49 the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that the occupying power must not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the land it occupies. The United Nations Security Council affirmed this back in 1979.

Without water for their animals, Mohammad’s family will have to leave.

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Tayseer told us that the underground wells were funded by the EU and YMCA in a project that finished three years ago. Some of them are over ten years old.  He can’t understand why they should get demolition orders now.  Even the track we are driving on is EU-funded and faces a demolition order.  He explains that the Israeli military told the EU that they could build the road, but issued a demolition once it was complete.  The EU is now challenging the order in the Israeli courts.

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We drive out further into the desert, well beyond the sight of any settlement. Suddenly, Tayseer’s experienced eyes spot a demolition order.  It is so remote that it is no wonder that it has taken two days for anyone to see it.

We soon start seeing demolition orders tucked under stones at regular intervals. This one has been left on the foundations of a structure being built to shelter animals from the heat of the sun.

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Whoever served this demolition order left it in front of the fence protecting the well in the distance.

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All that can be seen of the wells from the surface is a flat concrete top with a small access lid. In the expanse of the desert, they are barely visible.

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We are told that the demolition order on this well blew away in the wind before anyone could get to it. There is a court case considering whether demolition orders served in this way are legally valid but it has been going on for many years and is unlikely to conclude soon.  In the meantime, the Israeli military continue to serve legal documents under stones.

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The demolition orders are dated 3 May and allow seven days for an appeal to be lodged in the Israeli courts. Two days have expired already and it is now the weekend.  There is very little time for the owners of the wells to find a lawyer and ensure the legal process is followed.

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In total we find eight demolition orders. The track leads on to towards the Dead Sea, but having been out in the midday sun we are starting to feel light headed and turn back.  After driving for 45 minutes on dirt tracks Tayseer stops at the first shop to buy us water.  Without wells and without water it is not possible to stay on this land for long.

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Take action box 2

Write to your MEPs to ask what they, and the EU, are doing to hold the Israeli government to account for the illegal demolition of EU-funded structures in the occupied West Bank, including by demanding compensation for EU taxpayers. You can find contact details for UK MEPs here and for Irish MEPs here.

Write to your local elected representative in the UK and in Ireland and ask them to contact your country’s International Development Minister and Foreign Minister on your behalf to ask what they are doing to hold the Israeli government to account for the illegal demolition of UK and EU-funded structures in the occupied West Bank.

All photos: credit EAPPI/K.Fox