By EA Penny
At the end of a bone-shaking, car-crunching road between two Israeli military firing zones, on the southern edge of the West Bank, you will find the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khirbet a-Duqaiqah. The land is beautiful but barren and harsh, at the edge of the Negev desert. Life is tough but the local Bedouin people are accustomed to hard work, in challenging conditions. As shepherds of goats, sheep and camels, a nomadic lifestyle is in their blood. So too is a love of their land – Bedouin people have inhabited this area for several hundred years. The villagers have documents from both Ottoman and British Mandate times proving ownership, although some now have refugee status since part of their land is now in Israel on the other side of the Green Line.
The Green Line is the 1948 armistice line, internationally accepted as Israel’s border. On this side is the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory. But Khirbet a-Duqaiqah is also on the proposed route of the separation barrier. This has led to some of the greatest challenges these people have faced. Since the 1980s Israel has sought to remove the inhabitants of Khirbet a-Duqaiqah and demolish the village. The government of Israel maintains that the barrier is in the interests of security.
As an occupying military power, Israel is obliged to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention. This prohibits the forced displacement of people in occupied territory. Article 27 states: “Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons … their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected”. The inhabitants of Khirbet a-Duqaiqah have steadfastly refused to move, and life continues.
By day there are few men in the village. They are out on the hills with the flocks, often covering many miles in search of the meagre grazing. EAs were told that farmers need to buy expensive supplementary animal food all year round. But, surprisingly in this terrain, we saw land being prepared for the planting of winter barley as food for animals in spring.
Walking round the village we conversed as best we could with several local women. Most of the houses are basic structures of canvas over a frame on a concrete floor; some have concrete walls and a tin roof. Furniture comprises mattresses and cushions on the floor.Like most South Hebron villages, however, Khirbet a-Duqaiqah does have a reliable electricity supply, thanks to solar panels installed by Comet ME, an Israeli-Palestinian non-profit organisation providing sustainable energy and clean water services to off-grid communities.
Khirbet a-Duqaiqah also has some water piped from a village about eight miles away. Unfortunately this supply is controlled by Israeli authorities, which prioritise settlements, so it is often inadequate, forcing villagers to buy additional water at considerable expense. During the winter rains locals collect water in tanks.These same rains sometimes inundate dwellings or endanger lives with flash floods.
As in other South Hebron villages we found a small school. This one educates 58 children in Grades 1-6. But, like every other building in the village, it has a demolition order on it. In consequence there is a constant fear that the army will destroy the building. Older children must often walk five kilometres along that stony road to school.
On the day we visited, the mobile clinic was in attendance. This service has recently been reinstated after some months (the reduction in aid funding has taken its toll on mobile clinics here). Consultations have to take place in the vehicle. A substantial canvas structure erected as a clinic lies unused. The Israeli government has said that the canvas structure is prohibited and could be confiscated without notice. The villagers fear that this would happen immediately if put into use.
The clinic doctor, Nibal, who attends with a pharmacist and a driver, tells us: “We are frightened coming here. We are in danger. The army does not want us to come but it is our duty.” Some months ago a mobile clinic was confiscated in the firing zone. The illnesses most commonly seen are those associated with poverty, poor water quality and poor hygiene.
For the moment the forcible removal and demolition plans are frozen. Although approved by the Israeli High Court, we are told a government ministry has intervened since the proposed route of the separation barrier lies on the gazelles’ annual migration route. For the moment, the needs of gazelles carry more weight than the needs and rights of people.
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying military power from forcibly removing people and confiscating property, as well as requiring them to protect schools, hospitals, public health and the people’s way of life. Please write to your elected representatives asking that the government urge the Israeli government to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention, and respect the rights of Palestinian people in the West Bank.