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Immediate threat of eviction of a Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley

Update: On 8 Jan. 2014 military forces and Civil Administration personnel arrived at Khirbet ‘Ein Karzaliyah and demolished all of the community’s buildings. The residents have been left with no shelter for themselves or their livestock in the harsh winter weather conditions. The Israeli military also demolished the only water-pipe available to the residents.

Residents of Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah facing eviction. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 23 Dec. 2013
Residents of Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah facing eviction. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 23 Dec. 2013

Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah is located in the northern Jordan Valley, some three kilometers southwest of al-Jiftlik and some twenty kilometers east of 'Aqraba, on lands belonging to 'Aqraba. For about 25 years, it has been home to three families originally from the village of 'Aqraba, comprising ten adults and 15 minors . The families make their living from farming and herding, and rely on a nearby freshwater spring. The children attend school in nearby al-Jiftlik. Together, the families own three tents, six pens, five livestock sheds, two chicken coops and three flocks, totaling 750 sheep and goats. The families occupy the site nine months of the year, from September to May, and spend the summer months in 'Aqraba, because of excessive heat and water shortage. During this time, the flocks are kept in pens near the village.

In 1972, the army declared an area that includes Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah a closed military zone (no. 904), claiming it was required as a firing zone. However, residents report that, until two years ago, no military training had taken place there.

In 2003, the Civil Administration began ordering the families to evacuate the site on an almost yearly basis. It also destroyed some of their homes and facilities. The Civil Administration claims that it was only in 2003 that it became aware of the presence of the families at the site.

On January 19, 2010, Civil Administration officials served the families with orders instructing them to vacate the area within 72 hours, on the grounds that it was a closed military zone used as a firing zone. The families petitioned the High Court of Justice, represented by Adv. Taufiq Jabarin. That same week, the Court issued an interim injunction, putting the evacuation on hold pending further decision. At a hearing that took place about a year later, on January 31, 2011, the parties agreed to meet at the site, "In an attempt to find a practical solution to the Petitioners' problem, not necessarily in the area in which they are currently located." The families and their lawyer subsequently toured the area with state officials. During the tour, the families expressed their wish to continue living at the site and suggested they limit their migration to a 300-meter radius. The State rejected this offer. In a response submitted to the Court on November 24, 2011, the State argued that the site was required for military training and that since the Petitioners were not permanent residents of the area, they did not have the right to remain in it.

Over the next two years, the State offered the families several alternative sites, some in the already inhabited planned section of al-Jiftlik in Area C. The State said it would consider granting the families permits to herd their livestock in the firing zone. The families insisted on remaining at the site that has been their home for years, stating that, when necessary, they would vacate it on a temporary basis to allow the military to conduct training. On a number of occasions the military ordered the families to vacate for periods of up to three days to accommodate training.

The Court rejected the residents' petition on December 3, 2013, about four years after it was filed. Since the State's response included an order for the closure of the area dating back only to 1999, the Court considered it to be the decisive year for ruling on the question of the Petitioners' residency in the area. The Court went on to find that the Petitioners had failed to prove that they were permanent residents in the area at that time. The Court extended the interim injunction by three days to allow the families to evacuate their belongings from the site and try to reach an understanding with the State. Since no such understanding was reached, the three families living in Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah may be expelled from their homes at any time beginning Thursday, 2 January 2014.

As the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel must allow the local residents to lead their daily lives. This includes allowing them to build homes lawfully and use water sources. Expelling residents of an occupied territory from their homes to make way for military training is unlawful. Expulsions are permitted under international law only in exceptional circumstances, such as urgent military necessity or protecting the local population. Even then, the expulsion must be temporary, the residents must be provided with reasonable alternative accommodation, and, whatever the circumstances, they must be allowed to return home as soon as possible. Clearly, in this case, the expulsion fails to meet any of these requirements. In any event, the residents were never offered an appropriate alternative solution that would allow them to maintain their way of life and the expulsion would leave them homeless and without a livelihood.

B’Tselem calls on the relevant Israeli authorities to allow the residents of Khirbet 'Ein Karzaliyah to remain in their community and herd their flocks, as they have for the past 25 years.

Background

This planned expulsion is part of Israel’s longstanding policy towards shepherd communities in the Jordan Valley. To promote that policy, the Civil Administration takes various measures intended to expel these communities from the areas they occupy and use the land:

  • Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley are barred access to most of the area on various grounds: “closed military zones” - including military firing zones and areas inside the settlements' municipal boundaries, nature reserves or state land. Palestinians are forbidden to stay, build structures or graze flocks in these areas, which amount to approximately 85% of the Jordan Valley (excluding overlap).
  • The Civil Administration has refrained from drawing up master plans for the Palestinian communities in the limited areas that are still accessible to Palestinians. When Palestinians build structures without permits – having no other choice due to Civil Administration policies – the Administration issues demolition orders for the structures, some of which are executed. B’Tselem’s figures show that, from the beginning of 2006 to the end of April 2013, the Civil Administration demolished at least 315 residential units in Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley, which housed at least 1,577 people, including at least 658 minors. For 225 of these people (including 102 minors), this was at least the second time that their home had been demolished.
  • In addition to being barred from legal construction by the Civil Administration, Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley are usually also not connected to the water grid. They depend on the area’s sparse rainwater, which they collect in cisterns, and on buying water from private providers, at a high cost. As a result of this policy, the average water consumption in these communities is just 20 liters per capita per day, a far cry from the minimum 100 liters per capita per day recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Since the summer of 2012, the military periodically orders a temporary evacuation of communities living in areas declared firing zones in the Jordan Valley, citing military training as the reason. The evacuation orders handed to the communities required them to leave their residences for periods ranging from several hours to two days, noting that if they did not comply, they would be forcefully evicted and their livestock confiscated and they would be billed for the expenses of the eviction. By the end of May 2013, at least 20 such incidents had taken place.

This policy is aimed, among other things, at establishing Israeli control of the area and annexing it de-facto to Israel while exploiting its resources and minimizing Palestinian presence there. One of the purposes of this policy is to ensure Israeli presence in the area, even within the framework of a peace settlement.