Military training, village of al-‘Aqabah, June 2012. Photo by ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B’Tselem, 27 June 2012.
The village of al-‘Aqabah has been at its present location in the northern Jordan Valley, about two kilometers east of the village of Tayasir (in Area B) since the early 1900s. Prior to 1967, al-‘Aqabah had a population of about 600, mostly farmers who lived in tents.
After the occupation of the West Bank, a large area – including al-‘Aqabah’s land – was declared a closed military zone. Live-fire military exercises were frequently conducted within the village itself, lasting several days a week, by day and night. The exercises involved the use of tanks, helicopters and guns. During the exercises, the military closed roads and crops were ruined, thereby seriously disrupting the residents’ normal routine and livelihood. Sometimes the exercises even claimed lives. Over the years, two al-‘Aqabah's residents were killed by soldier’s gunfire and four others, including a six-year-old girl, were killed when dud shells left behind after military exercises exploded. At least 38 villagers have been injured by dud shells that exploded after left behind after an exercise. In 1971, the head of the al-‘Aqabah local council was injured by three bullets soldiers fired at him while he was harvesting his fields. He has been wheelchair-bound ever since. In 1999, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice on behalf of the residents, demanding that military exercises in the village and its fields be halted and that the order designating the village a closed military zone be revoked. Following the petition, the Israeli military pledged to conduct no more live-fire exercises in the village and that soldiers would not maneuver among the villagers’ houses.
Sami Subuh, head of al-‘Aqabah Council during military training in the village, June 2012. Subuh, injured at 16 by gunfire during a military exercise, has been wheelchair-bound ever since. Photo by ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B’Tselem, 27 June 2012.
The villagers, whose number has dwindled over the years to about 230, live in houses built of stone and sheet metal. The Civil Administration has never prepared a master plan for the village and, in early 2004, issued demolition orders for 35 of the village’s 45 buildings, including most of the residential structures, a mosque, a pre-school, a medical clinic, and the community’s only paved road. Residents filed petitions to the High Court of Justice seeking to annul the demolition orders and force the Civil Administration to prepare a master plan that would allow construction in the village. In response to these petitions, the Civil Administration announced in August 2008 that it had marked out an area in the center of the village, where most of the public buildings and fewer than half the residential buildings are located, which it does not intend to demolish “at this time”. That same month, the Court rejected the petition, after finding that rescinding the demolition orders, “would be akin to the Court’s granting a seal of approval to unlawful actions”. Since then, the Civil Administration has demolished several village buildings located outside the marked area, including three residences. In addition, roads that the village council had paved as well as street lighting that the council erected to light the access road to the village were demolished several times by the Civil Administration.
Road razed by Civil Administration, village of al-‘Aqabah, The Jordan Valley. Photo by Ann Paq, Activestills, 7 April 2011.
Since the rejection of their High Court petition, the al-‘Aqabah residents have applied to the Civil Administration a number of times, submitting planning requests and master plan proposals. All were rejected on various grounds. In March 2012, for example, the Civil Administration rejected a master plan proposed by the villagers on the grounds that the area of the plan is inflated in proportion to projected population growth. In its decision, the Civil Administration noted that there is no need to “establish a new planning entity in a firing zone”, when the village of Tayasir is located nearby, in Area B, and its master plan “has not yet fully exhausted its building potential”. The Civil Administration expressed concern that “the main aim of the plan […] is the retroactive approval of illegal construction carried out at that location over the years”. Later, the Civil Administration noted that “because Khirbet al-‘Aqabah” is located in a closed zone (a firing zone), prospects for approval of the plan at this point are poor”. The civil administration refuses to connect the village to the water network, and its residents rely on transporting water in containers from nearby villages.
In July 2012, the Civil Administration issued new demolition orders for several village structures, some of them residential. The residents again petitioned the High Court of Justice seeking to have the orders rescinded, and the Court issued an interim injunction on the demolitions, “subject to a freeze of the status quo on the ground in terms of construction and making use of buildings.” To date, court deliberations on the petition have yet to take place. At the same time, the village council continues to develop the community, aided by international organizations, and in recent years, has built an internal road system, a medical center, a child care center, a sewing workshop and a spice factory.