South Africa urges Israel to save the village of Al ‘Aqaba

My team member Ueli Schwarzmann from Switzerland at the ruins of a demolished farm-house in Al ‘Aqaba

On Thursday 9 February 2012 tears welled up in my eyes as I sat in my living room.  I was so angry, and so upset.

How does it happen that almost an entire well managed, clean village with residents who live in peace in the northern part of the Jordan Valley, Palestine, are under threat of being demolished?

When I was there at the end of 2011, I met the mayor, teachers, pupils and other townsfolk.  These people lead simple, peaceful lives on land they legally own and which is recognised as such by the United Nations.  Like us they have dreams for themselves. At the time 95% of the village had received demolition orders from Israel. (See my earlier post on demolitions and scroll down to the heading: AL ‘AQABA: 95% of this village has demolition orders…)

We asked the children how they feel when they see soldiers on their way to school.  This is what they said to my colleague Linda Baily (from Whales) and me:

 “I am scared when I see their guns and that they may hit me with it. I have seen them hitting motorists at Tubas with the back of their guns.”

“When I see them, I think they came to demolish my home.”

“Our minds are not with our teachers when there is training happening.”

“They sometimes knock on our door at night and search our house.  They ask if we have guns. We are scared that they may leave guns in our house just to be able to say that it belongs to us so that they can arrest us.  They once took my neighbour’s father far away for a week.”

“I started to cry when I arrived at my house after school and saw that it was demolished. We couldn’t remove anything from the house.”

What I learned that afternoon on 9 February in my living room, was that 97% of this village now has demolition orders. 

How did this happen? I quote from the e-mail I received that afternoon from EAPPI:

In recent years, the Rebuilding Alliance (www.rebuildingalliance.org), an American human rights organization sparked international interest in the Jordan Valley village of Al ‘Aqaba by discussing its problems with Members of the US Congress and organizing an awareness-building tour for the village’s mayor, Haj Samy Sadeeq (Tel. +972.9.257.2201) in the US.

As a result, in January 2012, the Head of the Israeli Civil Administration, Brigadier General Motti Almaz visited the village, to “look into complaints” filed by ‘Aqaba’s residents pertaining to mass demolition orders that would effectively destroy the entire village if executed.

According to Sadeeq, he told Almaz the following during the latter’s visit to Al‘Aqaba’s Village Council:

“You destroy our homes and we build them again. What else can we do? This is our village and we have nowhere else to go. In our village there had never been clashes with the military. Yet, for years soldiers trained here with live ammunition between our homes, and as a result villagers were killed and wounded. I personally was shot when I was just 16 years old and remain in a wheelchair for life. Yet I feel no bitterness or hatred. I support peace. I just ask that the military leave us alone.”

Sadeeq asked Almaz to approve a zoning plan for Al ‘Aqaba so villagers can build legally, and for reassurances that the military will not demolish ‘Peace Road’ (the main entrance into Al ‘Aqaba) again if the village rebuilds it with their own money and labor.

 The mayor also asked Almaz for:

  • permission to build a school on the 42 dunams (4.2 hectres) of “state land” that is in the middle of the village,
  • Al ‘Aqaba to be connected to the water network, and re-connected to the electric grid.

Almaz responded to all of Sadeeq’s concerns by saying, “We will look into it”.  At this stage 95% of the village had received demolition orders from Israel.

A few days later, on 24 January 2012, a representative of the Israeli Civil Administration (which is actually a military organization, despite its name) distributed 17 more demolition orders for homes, animal shelters, and even the communal oven.

 The representative told Sadeeq, “This whole village is illegal; everything must be destroyed”. A few days later, the same person returned to Al ‘Aqaba and issued another eight demolition orders, which included orders to demolish Al ‘Aqaba’s kindergarten and medical clinic. In total, 25 of 45 structures in the village received demolition orders in January 2012.

See the EAPPI online album of photographs of structures in Al ‘Aqaba that have pending demolition orders.

Israel’s behaviour is in clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law (Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 and Article 53
 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949).

URGE ISRAEL TO SAVE THE VILLAGE OF AL ‘AQABA:

I decided to do something and so we at Kairos Southern Africa wrote a letter to the South African government (Kairos SA letter to SA Govt re Al ‘Aqaba).  We asked them to stop Israel.  We now appeal to all Kairos movements in the world to join us in asking your governments to stop the demolition of Al‘ Aqaba. All the villagers in Area C of the West Bank has the right to  adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions.

This is what we asked our government:

Dear Sir

Urgent Action Appeal to rescind Demolition Orders in Palestinian Village

In November 2009 the South African government called upon the Israeli government to cease its activities that “are reminiscent of apartheid forced removals”. Sadly, those policies and practices of the State of Israel continue. We now call upon the South African Government to request the Israeli Ambassador in South Africa and/or Mr. Ehud Barak, Israeli Minister of Defense to rescind the recent 25 demolition orders issued by the Israeli Military Government’s Civil Administration to the village of Al ‘Aqaba in the West Bank: 

Mr. Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, Hakirya, Tel Aviv, Israel, Fax: +972-3-6977285 / +972-3-6916940, e-mail: minister@mod.gov.il / dover@mod.gov.ilpniot@mod.gov.il

The village of Al‘Aqaba lies east of Tubas, in the northern part of the Jordan Valley.  For many years, the 300 inhabitants of this village have faced severe repression by the Israeli Military Government, and repeated destruction of homes and infrastructure. Despite recent promises to the village by IDF Brigadier General Motti Almaz, harassment continues on a weekly basis and the threat of mass destruction of homes hovers over the village.  (Please see the attached information sheet).

 The residents of Al‘Aqaba have the right to live peacefully in their homes. 

Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 clearly states that:

it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” 

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 in turn states that:

“any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

 Al ‘Aqaba is not the only example of a village in the West Bank where civilians suffer from multiple and illegal ways by which the Israeli occupation is enforced:

  • Members of Kairos Southern Africa who worked in Palestine as human rights monitors witnessed the devastation on the lives of civilians when their houses, schools, clinics, mosques, water cisterns, animal shelters and roads are being demolished by Israel. 
  • According to the United Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (UNOCHA) demolitions and forced displacements in the West Bank are on the increase. During 2011, almost 1100 Palestinians, over half of them children, were displaced due to home demolitions.  This represents an increase of over 80% in comparison with 2010. During last year, 4 200 Palestinians were affected by the destruction of their livelihoods.
  • On 27 January 2012, Mr Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for occupied Palestinian territory called for an immediate end to home demolitions in the West Bank by the Government of Israel.

 Our call for justice on behalf of the residents of Al ‘Aqaba is an urgent appeal for adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions in all the villages in Area C of the West Bank.

 Sincerely,

Kairos Southern Africa (including Rev. Moss Nthla, Rev. Edwin Arrison, Ms. Dudu Masango, Dr. Stiaan van der Merwe, Dr. Frank Chikane, Terry Crawford-Browne, Laurie Gaum, Dr. Clint le Bruyns, Deon Scharneck, Ms Christel Erasmus and Ms Marthie Momberg); Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa (BDS South Africa); the Media Review Network; the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in South Africa; the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU); Dr Carol Martin, Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI Team 40) and Shereen Usdin.

YOU CAN ALSO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

 

Al ‘Aqaba 2011: The IDF’s destroyed the tar on this road.

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