The Palestinian village erased from the map: Demolition of Makhul shows how Israelis are transforming the Jordan Valley, despite international condemnation

Ben Lynfield meets those losing their homes - and a way of life

Makhul

Burhan Bisharat lost his home last week to an Israeli army bulldozer, but he retains the Palestinian ethos of hospitality, pressing his interviewer to drink more tea as he recounts how he has slept amid the ruins of the dwellings and sheep pens of this tiny village demolished by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank.

‘’Living on the ground with no cover is hard,’’ says the 40-year-old father of eight who, like a dozen other men from Makhul, has been sleeping out in the open because the army blocked them from pitching tents after the demolition.

Israeli defence ministry officials say the demolition of Makhul was a necessary law enforcement measure against unlicensed construction and stress that the Israeli Supreme Court last month rejected a petition against the demolition orders.

But human rights groups are condemning the demolitions. They say the army’s barring of EU and Red Cross efforts to supply relief tents marks a dangerous precedent and grave breach of international humanitarian law. After criticism of Israel by the EU over the weekend, on Tuesday Israel’s high court of justice indicated the army went too far in stopping relief aid. It issued a temporary injunction specifying that the military cannot evict residents during the next two weeks, something that will enable Mr Bisharat and others to pitch tents there at least for that period, according to their lawyer.

On Tuesday, a scorching summer day, Makhul’s men – they had sent their families to other villages – crowded under the only tree in sight for shade, watched by a Israeli soldiers lest they attempt to rebuild shelter for themselves or their sheep. At night, when temperatures fell, they lit a fire, sounding more worried about the wellbeing of their flocks than themselves. “This weather is very bad for the newborn sheep. I have six newborns, and heat during the daytime and coldness at night can harm the sheep. If the situation continues, it is very threatening, even tragic,” Mr Bisharat said.

On 16 September  the army destroyed Makhul at 5am, ordering residents to vacate so that the bulldozers could demolish the corrugated-metal dwellings and animal sheds. Some residents trace their presence at the site to before Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, though Israeli officials said most had dwellings in other locales and lived there just part of the year.

The remnants of the demolition were visible on the hillside on Tuesday, piles of scrap that had been the ramshackle homes for just over a hundred people, from nine families, according to their lawyer, Tawfik Jabarin.

The injunction will prevent the army from acting against tents for the next two weeks; then a court session will be held on the matter, Mr Jabarin says.

In the meantime, Makhul will continue to be a microcosm of Israeli efforts to impose what is seen as its illegal transformation of the strategic and fertile Jordan Valley, which comprises more than a quarter of the West Bank, from a Palestinian to an Israeli area. Rights groups and the Palestinian Authority charge that this is being done by advantaging settlers and trying to cause Palestinians to move elsewhere. Israel denies the latter charge.

Mr Bisharat and others in Makhul, who rent land owned by Palestinian landowners, are being forced to pay the price for the transformation.

“I rent 7,000 sq m,” says Mr Bisharat. “We plant our land with wheat, barley, lentils and other grains. We produce milk, cheese, butter, eggs and meat. This is our style of life and we are not going to change it.” Ahmad Bani Odeh, a 75-year-old man with white stubble, says: ‘’Since 1967 I have been living here. I have a hundred sheep. Where will I go? I am here, I remain here and, God willing, I will die here.’’

Guy Inbar, an Israeli defence ministry official, says the dwellings that made up Makhul were illegally built and that their destruction was an act of law enforcement that came four years after demolition notices were first issued. But rights groups say it is virtually impossible to get Israeli building permits due to discriminatory planning practices.

Human Rights Watch representative Bill Van Esveld said the interdiction of tents needed by Makhul residents to stay on the land amounted to a forced transfer of the population in the occupied territory, a violation of the Geneva Convention. ‘’All the criteria appear to be met for this to be considered forcible transfer, which is a war crime,’’ he said. Foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson denied there was any violation of international law.

Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman of B’tselem, the Israeli human rights group, said before the high court’s intervention that a dangerous precedent was being set: “One of the worrying aspects of Makhul is that it is the first time in the Jordan Valley that authorities demolished all structures without allowing the community to at least rebuild some structures for shelter.”

Arif Daraghmeh, head of a council of 13 small villages in the northern Jordan Valley including Makhul, says that about 10 of the area’s 450 Palestinian families leave every year “because of the Israeli policies including demolitions, taking our water resources and stealing our land”.

‘“The idea is to empty this area of Arabs and build more settlements and army camps,” he said.

But David Elhayani, chairman of the council representing 21 settlements in the Jordan Valley, denied there is any effort to reduce the Arab population. On the contrary, he said, he knew of plans to build a new town for Arabs on public land in the valley. Mr Elhayani says there is a lot of room for more settlers to come, especially in the northern Jordan Valley, the area where Makhul was located. He claims: “There are no Palestinian villages there.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence