Some 60 Palestinians awoke Tuesday morning to the sound of bulldozers razing their West Bank village in the South Hebron Hills as the Israeli army cleared the grounds to expand a live-fire training zone, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem. The military demolished 22 structures in the herding community of Khirbet Jenbah, a ramshackle town with houses made of tin, tarp and stone. Thirty-two children were left homeless.
The community had been engaged in a lengthy legal fight against the demolitions since the year 2000. As part of a campaign to support the areas under threat the Israeli human rights group B’tselem conducted a series of interviews in 2013 with residents about the impending demolitions. Halimah Abu ‘Aram, 41, a mother of four and a herder with her husband in the village of Khirbet al-Majaz, nearby Khirbet Jenbah spoke with B’tselem after being informed the injunction that had protected her house was going to be lifted.
“We have no school in the village because the military won’t let us build one. So our children have to walk to the school in al-Fakhit, which is about 10 kilometers away. They walk there and back in the cold and in the heat. We have no medical clinic. Once every two weeks, volunteer doctors come to al-Fakhit. Women, myself included, have to get there by foot. If someone is seriously ill, we have to take them by donkey or tractor over a grueling route. In the past, we used camels.
We heard that the Israeli military plans to evacuate the entire area, including our village, on the pretext that it is a military firing and training zone. This news frightened me. I can’t imagine what will become of us if the military carries out that decision. Where will we go?”
Khirbet Jenbah along with dozens of other hill sloped hamlets were first designated an army training area in the 1970s. At that time no effort was made to enforce the order. Then in 1999 around 700 Palestinians living within the 7,500 acres territory were forced out of their villages to make way for an area within this zone for “live-fire” exercises. A number of townships that fell outside of the live-fire zone, including Khirbet Jenbah, were left standing.
The following year litigation began on the status on the land ownerships. Palestinians said it was theirs from before 1967 when Israel’s occupation of the West Bank began. In court Israel said it had the right to designate the track for army training. In 2000 a judge approved an injunction against demolishing the remaining five villages still intact inside of the training zone.
When the lengthy trial over the status of the land brought by the Palestinian homeowners against Israel collapsed in 2013, the military ordered the demolition these once protected homes with Khirbet Jenbah as the first. The demolitions were delayed until now while lawyers representing the families attempted to mediate an agreement to issue another stays of demolition. Those talks failed this week.
Located in Area C of the West Bank Khirbet Jenbah is subject to strict building permits issued at the discretion of the Israeli Civil Administration, the governing authority over sixty-percent of the West Bank where 300,000 Palestinians reside.
Palestinians are rarely granted approval to construct homes made of traditional building materials—stone, concrete and glass. In a special report on demolitions in Area C published last year the United Nations said from 2010-2014 only 1.5-percent of building permits for new construction were approved. As a result, Palestinians in Area C typically build without receiving the necessary documentation. Yet in doing so they are exposed to demolition. The same United Nations study found 77-percent of all Palestinian homes on land they privately owned inside of Area C have standing demolition notices.