Palestinian village struggles against “quiet transfer”
Three sisters, moments before a home demolition in Al Aqaba, in the West Bank (photo: flickr/frecklebaum)
Surrounded by two training military camps, in Area C, Al Aqaba’s population has gone from 1000 in 1967, the beginning of the Israeli military occupation of West Bank, to the current 300.
Al Aqaba is part of Tubas district, in the northeastern area of the West Bank, near the entrance of the Jordan Valley. A fertile land, rich with water resources, its geography attracted the attention of the Israeli Army which has used the area for military training of all kinds. Sami Sadiq, head of the Al Aqaba local council, explains, “Al Aqaba is surrounded by two military camps, used for the training of ground forces, tanks and air force. After the 1967 war, the village area was declared a closed military zone for ‘security reasons.’ Since that moment, they started building three training camps that host thousands of soldiers every year. They come here for one or two months and then they are sent to their respective units.”
“From 1971 to the present,” Sadiq adds, “the soldiers killed 13 Palestinians and injured at least 50.”
Sadiq is among them, having taken three bullets to his back. One is too close to his heart to be extracted. He has spent the past 38 years in a wheelchair. But, still, he continues to protest against the occupation.
After a petition was submitted by the residents of Al Aqaba in 2003, one of the three camps was closed: it was located exactly in the entrance of the village, making life impossible because of dangerous trainings and movement restrictions. But the two other bases remain and, Sadiq says, “The hills around Al Aqaba are a closed military zone. The aim of the Israeli Civil Administration is to declare the village a closed military zone, in order to force all the inhabitants to leave their own houses.
According to the Israeli law civilians are strictly forbidden from accessing closed military zones.
“The Israelis’ goal is obvious,” Sadiq says. “This land is very fertile and rich in water resources. They want to empty the area of its original Palestinian inhabitants and colonize it, confiscating the land and water.”
A “quiet transfer” is already happening, through demolitions, land confiscations, and the denial of basic services, such as running water.
“In Al Aqaba the water system doesn’t exist,” Sadiq says. “It has never been authorized by the [Israeli] Civil Administration, which has total control of the area: the village is forced to buy water tanks and to fill the wells. And the connection to the electricity network was allowed just three years ago. Before we were using a generator.”
“The oldest house in Al Aqaba dates back to 1930 [18 years before the state of Israel was established],” Sadiq continues. “Nevertheless, Israeli authorities accuse every single family of the village of building their homes illegally. So, they carry out demolitions. This year they destroyed Salam Street twice, in April and in September.”
95% of the buildings in the village are under demolition order. Among them the health center, the kindergarten and the mosque. A petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, submitted in 2004 by Al Aqaba residents in order to cancel the orders, was rejected on the 7 of April 2008. The lawyer for the village, Tusja-Cohen, asked a team of experts to come up with a new plan, to make the buildings “legal” under Israeli law and to obtain the required permits for the owners.
But the Court didn’t accept this petition and authorized the demolitions. The last ones date back on 15th of September: the Army destroyed two kilometers of the only road connecting the village to the Jordan Valley and demolished two houses along Salam Street. In addition, there are the land confiscations: “Thousands of dunams were confiscated by Israel in order to build the three military camps,” Sadiq explains. “During the trainings, the soldiers destroy olive trees and agricultural lands. It seems to be war [training]: once they simulated the fall of a plane.”
According to Sadiq, soldiers sometimes use houses and streets inside the village for military training, “Dozens of soldiers enter suddenly and exercise as though they are preparing for war in the middle of a city, between narrow roads. Over the years, this has caused Palestinian residents [to leave].”
House demolitions, land confiscations, lack of services, and accidental deaths due to military training have effectively depopulated Al Aqaba as many families have moved to Tubas and Nablus.