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Israeli forces demolish homes, school in Bedouin village in the Jordan Valley

Jan. 3, 2017 3:12 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 4, 2017 1:24 P.M.)
Demolitions in Khirbet Tana on April 7, 2016. (UNOCHA, File)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces demolished some 15 structures in Khirbet Tana on Tuesday morning, including homes and the only school in the small hamlet, which is located on the outskirts of the village of Beit Furik in the Jordan Valley in the northeastern occupied West Bank.

The village was demolished at least four times over the course of 2016, leaving scores of Bedouin Palestinians homeless, sparking condemnation from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who warned that the village was at risk of “forcible transfer” by Israeli authorities.

A Palestinian official who monitors settler activities in the northern West Bank, Ghassan Daghlas, told Ma'an on Tuesday that several Israeli military vehicles stormed Khirbet Tana and declared the area a closed military zone.

Bulldozers then demolished 15 improvised structures, including residences, barns, and the sole school of the village, which also serves other nearby communities.

According to state-run Palestinian news agency Wafa, the school was built with funding from the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection of the European Commission and was opened for students only in November.

Israeli soldiers also reportedly confiscated three vehicles during the military raid.

Majid Afif, a resident of Khirbet Tana, told WAFA after Israeli army bulldozers demolished his home: “We now live in the open and cold air...(but) we are not going to give up. We are going to rebuild our village.”

"Palestinian communities like Khirbet Tana are amongst the most vulnerable in the West Bank," Robert Piper, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said in a statement back in March 2016, after three separate demolitions in the first three months of that year left 87 of the village's 250 residents homeless.

In April, 34 more structures in the village were demolished in a single day, displacing 69 Palestinians, 29 of them children. Many of the demolished structures had been provided by donors as relief after earlier demolitions. According to Wafa, demolitions in Khirbet Tana in 2016 targeted 150 structures, displacing a total of 214 people.

Khirbet Tana lies in an Israeli-declared military training zone, known as a "firing zone," which rights groups say Israel intends to fully annex. Communities that find themselves inside declared "firing zones" face a high risk of losing their livelihoods, homes, and schools.

"The destruction of the relief provided to these households in these harsh winter conditions adds insult to injury” Piper wrote in his statement at the time. "Destroying homes and livelihoods in order to place pressure on households to move places communities at risk of 'forcible transfer,' a grave breach of the laws of occupation."

Nearly 20 percent of the occupied West Bank has been declared "firing zones" since the 1970s, but according to the UN, recent research shows that nearly 80 percent of these areas are not in fact used for military training.

However, when military training does take place, Israel forces families to leave their homes for hours or days at time until the drill is over.

A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in Palestinian territory, confirmed to Ma'an that the three vehicles were confiscated and that the 15 buildings were destroyed for being built without the permits required by Israel to build in the area -- "fire zone 904."

The spokesperson wrote that the structures had been built the "while endangering the residents lives that entered the zone," and added that the demolition came after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition by residents to legalize their homes regarding the structures. "But the structures owners choose to build the structures again and with that to break the law" (sic).

Demolitions in Khirbet Tana came amid the most extensive demolition campaign in the occupied West Bank in the last seven years. Israel demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied territory in 2016 than in any year since the United Nations began documenting demolitions in 2009, OCHA said last week.

The unprecedented demolition campaign left some 1,593 Palestinians homeless and affected the livelihoods of another 7,101, according to a conservative, preliminary analysis of the data.

The “vast majority” of the Palestinian structures were destroyed or seized for lacking Israeli-issued building permits, according to the report.

Israel almost never gives Palestinians permission to build in land classified as Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control, leaving residents no choice but to build their homes without permits who “live in constant fear of their homes and livelihoods being destroyed,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem has said.

Tuesday morning’s demolition in Khirbet Tana was already the second to occur in the first days of the new year. On Monday morning, 87 were left homeless when 11 residential structures in the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar were demolished, without allowing the owners to evacuate personal belongings and furniture.

Like Khirbet Tana, Khan al-Ahmar is one of several Bedouin villages facing forced relocation. Residents of Khan al-Ahmar are targeted due to the village’s location in the contentious E1 corridor east of Jerusalem, where Israel plans to build thousands of homes for Jewish-only settlements, with new legislation set to be proposed to annex the massive Maale Adumim settlement there.
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