On July 22, a delegation of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) visited the village of Al Hadidiya (Tubas governorate) in the northern Jordan Valley.
Al Hadidiya represents a good example of the implications of Israeli occupation in the West Bank on the life of thousands of Palestinians.
The ongoing displacement of Al Hadidya’s residents
Before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, this village used to be a thriving farming community, with around 160 families living in traditional stone-built houses.
In 1997 the area where the village was located was declared a firing zone – a restricted military area – by the Israeli authorities and residents were ordered to evacuate. As a result, the whole community was forcibly transferred and had to resettle several kilometres away. Since then, as it is mostly the case in Area C, the Israeli Civil Administration has been systematically denying them the right to build any permanent structures, or to have running water, electricity, schools, health care or roads.
Over the last 18 years, most families left Al Hadidiya because of the Israeli policies and practices which negatively impact their access to water, including demolitions and confiscations of water and sanitation structures.
Of the original 160 families, today only 13 households (approximately 90 residents) remain in Al Hadidiya, enduring an incredibly hard life and the constant harassment from the nearby settlers and the Israeli authorities.
“When herders bring their animals to graze in the land surrounding the community, they are often beaten up and harassed, and stones are thrown at them by settlers and settlements’ private security. The nearby settlements are surrounded by a large perimeter of land that we cannot access for what they call `security reasons`. But where else should we herd our livestock? We’re surrounded by settlements” the chief of the village tells the visiting delegation. “Recently some children disappeared. Their families were desperate; the whole community spent hours looking for them, but they were nowhere to be found. Where could they be? What had happened to them? You know, with the nearby settlements you always think of the worst. Only in the middle of the night, hours after their disappearance, were we eventually informed that the kids were being detained by the Israelis because they had been playing too close to a settlement”, he adds.
Discriminatory access to water
Despite its proximity to a pump of Mekorot – the Israeli national water company – the village is not hooked up to the water network. As a result, Al Hadidiya residents depend on expensive water tankers, ending up paying 30 NIS for a cubic meter, about six times as much as they would be paying if they were connected to the network. This explains why the average water consumption in Al Hadidiya (20 litres per person per day) is far lower than the absolute minimum of 100 litres recommended by the World Health Organization.
On the contrary, the two nearby settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot are served by Mekorot, and their average water consumption for household use alone – that is without considering water used for agriculture – is at least 23 times that of Al Hadidiya: 460 litres per person per day.
In spite of all these difficulties, residents of Al Hadidiya refuse to give up their rights and their homes: “They [Israeli settlers and authorities] try to make our lives impossible to force us to leave yet again. But our resilience is stronger than their discriminatory policies”, the village chief tells us.
Long term solutions are needed
Both local and international organizations are operating in this and other similar communities to respond to their basic needs and help them stay on their land. However, those are not sustainable living conditions and long–term solutions are extremely and urgently needed to ensure that people are not forcibly transferred from their lands and that they can live with dignity.
For this to be possible, the first and foremost action needed is the transfer of control of Area C to the Palestinian authorities, starting from the planning powers. As far as Israel is in charge of them – with a permit denial rate of 97% to Palestinian building and development in Area C – no real long term improvement of the situation can be foreseen. This is therefore what donors, the broader international community in general and in particular whoever is investing on Palestine’s development (e.g. the European Union) should focus on in order to bring about sustainable change. As a humanitarian worker says “Donors allow us to use their funds for emergency interventions only, because they need to comply with the Israeli regulations and permit regime.” And continues “But if we provide tents instead of houses and bring trucked water instead of water infrastructure to this community, how can we hope to improve the situation in such conditions?”
The delegation was impressed by the difficult living conditions of Al Hadidiya’s residents, and especially by the strong, visible disparity with a nearby settlement. At the end of the visit, Margrete Auken – a Member of the European Parliament for the Greens party – expressed solidarity to the community and appreciation for their resilience.