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Officials: Israel destroys ancient wells near Bethlehem

March 27, 2011 1:58 P.M. (Updated: March 28, 2011 2:22 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities destroyed ancient water wells and natural reservoirs used by Bedouins southeast of Bethlehem, Palestinian officials said.

A 3,000-cubic-meter well owned by Ali Madghan Rashayida and a 225-cubic meter reservoir belonging to Majid Rashayida were demolished last week, in a move Palestinian Authority officials said was illegal and "an obvious assault by the Israeli occupation."

International and local human rights groups had been working with PA officials to help the Rashayida Bedouins rehabilitate the area, and use natural caves to collect water for domestic use and for their sheep.

Bringing water tankers to the area had been very costly, and beyond the means of the community.

By demolishing the structures, Israeli authorities deprived the community of the right to file a legal appeal, officials added, noting that the time limit given in the demolition warrants had not yet passed.

Residents of Arab Ar-Rashayida were handed demolition orders for the tents and wells in their enclave of the village during the week of 13 March.

Ali Auda, the head of the family, said if the orders were carried out in full, the family -- 50 members in all -- would have nowhere else to go.

"It is the farce of the twenty-first century, imagine, an occupying state telling Palestinians they are violating their own land."

The partial demolition of the community will have an equally devastating effect, officials said, explaining that the Bedouin would not have sufficient water for themselves or their livestock, and would be at high risk during summer months in the desert area.

The UN has noted a sharp increase in Israel's demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank in 2011.

"Although the Israeli authorities maintain that these demolitions are carried out due to the lack of Israeli-issued permits, the highly restrictive and often discriminatory nature of the planning regime implemented by the same authorities rarely grants Palestinians such permits in Area C, leaving them with no choice but to build 'illegally,' or to leave the area," the agency said February in its monthly report.

"It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the destruction of basic rain water collection systems, some of them very old, which serve marginalised rural and herder Palestinian communities where water is already scarce and where drought is an ever-present threat," said Maxwell Gaylard, who heads OCHA in the Palestinian territories.

Gaylard noted that the demolitions were illegal under international law, which prohibits an occupying power from destroying property belonging to individuals or communities except when absolutely required by military operations.

Following Israel's confiscation of nine water tankers from a community in Khirbet Tana, in Nablus, on March 7, Gaylard said, "if the authorities ultimately responsible for these demolitions could see the devastating impact on vulnerable Palestinian communities, they might reflect upon the inhumanity of their actions."

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