JABAL AL BABA, WEST BANK // Debris from the homes lay scattered over the rocky earth – ply wood, plastic, sheets of aluminium and corrugated iron strewn among the remnants of destroyed household items that were once inside these makeshift structures.
It looked like the aftermath of a tornado, but it was the result of another Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Bedouin village of Jabal Al Baba.
Before dawn on January 21, two bulldozers escorted by Israeli military vehicles and 50 soldiers entered the West Bank village and razed three residential structures – one with the European Union (EU) flag still plastered on it. It left 17 people, including women and children, homeless.
Jabal Al Baba is one of 20 villages of the Bedouin Jahalin tribe that are located between occupied East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, an area for which Israel has a controversial development plan.
Israel’s E1 plan
Palestinian authorities say Israel’s plan for the area, which it has designated E1, aims to give it an unbroken stretch of territory between East Jerusalem and its illegal settlements in the West Bank, thus dividing the northern and southern West Bank and preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
The plan also requires Israel to relocate Bedouin homes.
The demolition of the three homes – all prefabricated metal sheds donated by the EU – was carried out without warning.
“Our women and children were asleep. They woke them up, took them out of the houses and knocked them down. By 6am they had demolished the houses and left,” said Atallah Mazara’a, a representative for the community whose relatives’ homes were destroyed.
“They came in the dark of the night because by day Israel has to appear like a democratic country, and not the ugly face we witnessed.”
Residents had thought the EU logo on their homes would give them some protection – but this was not the case.
On February 17, the Israeli military’s civil administration in the occupied West Bank, known as Cogat, issued demolition orders on 12 more structures in Jabal Al Baba, including a prefabricated mosque.
“They want to modernise us, we refuse this,” said Mr Mazara’a, referring to Israel’s plans to move people out of these make-shift structures and use the land for their benefit.
“We’ve lived on these lands since the Nakba,” he said, describing the catastrophe in 1948 when Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes.
He said more than 20 demolitions have been carried out since 2014 in Jabal Al Baba, which has a population of 320.
Three days later, on February 20, the military demolished the two caravans that housed the only school in neighbouring Abu Nuwwar, where 700 people live. According to residents, officials from Cogat said they were demolishing it because concrete structures were forbidden in the area.
E1 is located in Area C of the occupied West Bank that is under full Israeli military administration and where the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction. Israel plans to demolish all the Bedouin homes in E1, according to human rights groups. They say Israel plans to replace them with Jewish settlements, claiming West Bank territory that, under the Oslo Accords, was supposed to be returned to Palestinians.
Israel’s relocation plan would see the Bedouin residents moved to a planned town, about one kilometre away from E1, which has already been partially set up.
There they would have access to electricity, water and sewage disposal systems – facilities that Israel has denied them in the areas they now live.
“The Israelis understand the strategic position of this location for the viability of the Palestinian state and the future Palestinian capital in Jerusalem – just like everywhere in the West Bank, they started building settlements in this area,” said Fouad Al Hallak, an adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) negotiations affairs department.
The Jabal Al Baba Bedouin community were moved by Israel from their ancestral lands in the Negev after its government was formed in 1951. The Jahalin communities are already recognised as UN-registered refugees.
‘End of two-state solution’
PLO representative Hussam Zomlot called the E1 plan the “mother of all evil”.
“If E1 happens it’s the end of any prospect for a two-state solution – it’s the lethal bullet to any peace deal. But the E1 is already unfolding, it’s happening right in front of our eyes.
“The continuation of the confiscation of our future – it’s the ongoing Nakba since 1948, nothing has changed. Jerusalem is the heart of it, the core. Jerusalem is not just the political capital it’s the strategic location of Palestine,” said Mr Zomlot.
According to a master plan approved in 1994, about 5,000 housing units, 10 hotels, and industrial and commercial zones will be built in the E1 area, requiring the confiscation of 12.5 square kilometres of land from the Al Tur, Issawiya and Ezariya communities.
In 2013, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under international pressure, vetoed the construction of some 1,200 homes there but the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now said they have documents from the housing ministry showing that architects had been hired to prepare new plans.
On December 28 last year Peace Now said Mr Netanyahu’s government was working to revive and extend plans for new Jewish settlement homes in the contentious corridor of land.
Peace Now said a report it obtained under the Freedom of Information law showed that the housing ministry was seeking to build 55,000 housing units in the West Bank, including two new settlements. Of these, 8,300 would be located in E1.
Director of Peace Now Yariv Oppenheimer told Israel's Haaretz daily that the documents showed Mr Netanyahu had not kept his word ABOUT no work being done in E1.
“Israel is continuing to promote massive construction in the settlements, including E1. The government is not wasting a single day and is investing tens of millions in expanding and establishing new settlements. Behind the scenes they are secretly planning the establishment of a binational state,” Mr Oppenheimer said referring to a state where both Israelis and Palestinians live together.
Israeli authorities also seem determined to destroy structures funded by the EU at a time when relations with the bloc are already at an all-time low. According to OCHA – or UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has already destroyed 104 EU-funded structures in the West Bank in the first two months of this year, compared to a total of 108 in the entire 2015.
Israel has ramped up demolitions in the West Bank this year, with nearly 300 in just January and February this year, compared with 447 in the whole of 2015.
The EU is reportedly investigating ways to demand compensation from Israel for the demolition of homes it donated to the communities.