Israel: Maybe Palestinians in the Jordan Valley Landed From Mars

The Israeli army ordered the eviction of 300 Palestinians from their homes in the northern Jordan Valley area of the occupied West Bank earlier this month. The residents of Ein al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal, who mostly make their living herding sheep, camels, and cows, have lived in the area for decades. Israel’s military and Civil Administration is taking similar steps to evict three other Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan Valley: Kalat Makhoul, Al-Farisiya, and Khumsa.

Children from Umm Jabal gather to protest the demolition of the only kindergarten there.

Children from Umm Jabal gather to protest the demolition of the only kindergarten there. (Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council)

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan does not rule out the possibility that Palestinians arrived in the Jordan valley from Mars. He said so on Wednesday, November 15, in response to an urgent parliamentary query from Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) about an army evacuation order delivered to residents of two Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley on Thursday, November 9.

The order, known as a demarcation order, demanded that the residents immediately remove all their property, meaning it effectively demanded that they remove themselves. This was the first time the army has used this type of military order, originally issued in 2003 to deal with unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts, against Palestinians.

In this worldview, Palestinian communities – whose natural development Israel has restricted and continues to restrict, including forbidding them to hook up to infrastructure – are “outposts.” Their residents are squatters who have only recently arrived, and all of them deserve the same fate: eviction and demolition of their homes.

On Wednesday, November 15, Ben-Dahan enunciated this view in the Knesset. When Khenin noted that the two communities slated for eviction – Ein al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal – have been in the northern Jordan Valley for generations, Ben-Dahan replied, “Aerial photographs prove that neither of these villages were there a few years ago, so don’t tell me they’ve been there for generations, that’s a fabrication.”

Khenin interrupted to ask if Ben-Dahan had ever spoken with the residents whom he “claims with such temerity weren’t there.” Ben-Dahan responded, “They were never there.” At this point, MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) erupted. “So where were they?” he asked. Ben-Dahan responded, “I don’t know. Not there.” Raz persisted, demanding, “Did they come from Mars?” Ben-Dahan responded, “Maybe. Do we lack people like that?”

This past Thursday, November 16, a demarcation order was used for a second time against a Palestinian community, this time the Jahalin Bedouin tribe in Jabal al-Baba near Ma’ale Adumin in the West Bank. Like the first eviction order, this one was signed by the commander of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank, Major General Roni Numa, but was dated November 1, even though the text demands compliance within eight days. It, too, was not delivered to the residents personally, but was merely stuck on a piece of metal near one of the shacks. Uprooting this community would clear land for the expansion of the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim near Jerusalem.

The use of an order, originally prepared for Jewish settler outposts set up overnight, against Palestinian communities which have existed for decades, is evidence of a deliberate escalation in the efforts to evict Palestinians from their places of residence in Area C. Apparently the Israeli military and Civil Administration in the West Bank now find it expedient to execute such evictions from Area C (that part of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli civil and security control) by means of military prosecution and without the hindrance of the lengthy civil legal proceedings that would entail compliance with planning and building laws.

Over the past two years, the use of such orders against Palestinians has become more common. As of June 2017, the 500 mobile homes that have been confiscated by the Civil Administration and which are now being held on its lots – all belong to Palestinians. Marco Ben Shabbat, the head of the Civil Administration’s inspection unit, reported this to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in June.

Last week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) informed Colonel Eyal Toledano, the Israeli military’s legal adviser for “Judea and Samaria,” that confiscating mobile homes without granting the right to a hearing is illegal. In the letter, attorney Roni Pelli of ACRI noted that Ben Shabbat told the committee that “the use of confiscation orders is intended to prevent petitions to the Supreme Court against the issued orders which are in violation of planning and building laws, because of the burden that numerous petitions creates for his office. The confiscation process, with which the Civil Administration ‘bypasses a civil hearing and the Supreme Court,’ harms the most basic rights of the residents.”

On Sunday, November 12, Pelli sent a letter in the name of ACRI to Numa. She criticized the way the demarcation order was issued and said that, in practice, this was a forced transfer of populations in violation of Section 49 (1) of the charter of the International Criminal Court and, as such, it could be a war crime and fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction.