Scorched Earth in the Jordan Valley, Silence in the Times

Israel demolished three entire communities in the Jordan Valley last month, confiscated tents donated by the Red Cross, and left some 240 people homeless in the winter cold, but none of this was news enough to print in The New York Times.

It’s not that observers weren’t trying to get the word out. Monitoring organizations filed weekly reports, news agencies put out stories, and respected humanitarian organizations, including an Israeli rights group and a United Nations agency, issued press releases sounding the alarm and calling for Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes. The Jordan Valley was high on their list of crisis points for the month of January.

The Times did turn its sights on the Jordan Valley with a Jan. 5 article by Isabel Kershner. She tells of demolitions in one village, but the full reality is hidden behind talk of “two adversarial communities” and bureaucratic tangles. Any difficulties Palestinians have, she says, are due to “the complexities of the fierce contest for control” of the valley “and the challenges the Palestinians face in administration.”

Others have been telling the story, however. B’Tselem, an Israeli organization that keeps tabs on abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, published a press release on Jan. 8, stating that Israeli military and Civil Administration staff arrived at the northern Jordan Valley community of Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah at dawn that day and “proceeded to demolish all of the community’s buildings, thereby rendering homeless the entire population—three families comprised of 10 adults and 15 minors.”

The Israelis left the community with “no viable alternative,” the report said, “with no shelter for themselves or their livestock in the harsh winter weather conditions.” It added, “The Israeli military also demolished the only water-pipe available to the residents.”

Five days later B’Tselem ran an update: “On the day of the demolition, the [three] families received tents from the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and erected them at a nearby site. This morning, 13.1.14, soldiers and Civil Administration officers arrived, took down the six tents and confiscated them, leaving the families again without shelter.”

Two weeks later WAFA news agency reported that the Israeli military had destroyed the northern Jordan Valley community of Khirbet Umm al Jimal on Jan. 29, demolishing at least 50 buildings and rendering 13 families, about 150 people, homeless.

The following day Israeli bulldozers went to work again in the Jordan Valley, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The agency issued a press releaseannouncing that Israeli authorities had destroyed 36 Palestinian-owned structures in Ein al Hilwe, leaving 66 people, including 36 children, without shelter.

UN humanitarian coordinator James W. Rawley was quoted in the release, expressing alarm at the “ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in Area C, particularly along the Jordan Valley where the number of structures demolished more than doubled in the last year. This activity not only deprives Palestinians of access to shelter and basic services, it also runs counter to international law.”

The release also noted that the seizure of tents in Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah was not an isolated incident. “Humanitarian agencies are facing increasing difficulties responding to emergency needs in Area C of the Jordan Valley due to restrictions from the Israeli authorities. In several cases, humanitarian assistance has been seized, confiscated or destroyed.”

Meanwhile, the Times was reporting on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which concerned the need for Israeli security, especially in the Jordan Valley. It placed a slide show of Jordan Valley scenes on its website, an accompaniment to the Jan. 5 article, but the captions show that the Times was not eager to give the full story of what is happening there.

Two photos depict life in Khirbet Makhoul, the herding village featured in Kershner’s article. The first caption gives the impression that it was razed in 1967, as if it had been a casualty of war well in the past. A second also mentions razing “for lack of building permits” but gives no time frame at all.

Kershner’s story also mentions two Palestinian farming villages, Bardala and Jiftlik. Last November Israeli troops stormed Bardala and told residents they would have to leave by Dec. 1. (They seem to have won at least a temporary reprieve.) A year earlier the military confiscated tractors from Bardala farmers and imposed heavy fines to get them back. It has also placed closures on the village, making it difficult for residents to work outside.

Jiftlik has suffered similar harassment. Military authorities have confiscated tractors and demolished homes, water tanks and animal shelters. The latest assault came on Jan.28 when the army demolished homes and animal barns in the village.

Times readers, however, hear nothing of this state-sponsored plunder. When Kershner writes of these two villages she states that Bardala is “neglected” and struggles with water problems and that Jiftlik has trouble getting its due from the Palestinian Authority.

Fortunately, other reporters have visited communities facing the threat of destruction, and they have given voice to the residents clinging to their village sites in the midst of the rubble of their former homes.

In Open Democracy this month Victoria Brittain writes of “traumatised barefoot children, silent exhausted mothers, desperate fathers” in the Jordan Valley, who have had “their homes and farms repeatedly destroyed by military bulldozers in dawn raids” and their “ever-present fear of army and settler violence.”

She gives them names and tells their stories. “Burhan Bisharat’s village of Kirbet al Makhoul was destroyed four times in two weeks in late September last year,” she writes. “With no warning or demolition notices the bulldozers drove up the dirt road before dawn and brought down tin homes, hay sheds, animal pens, water troughs and a playground with swings belonging to the twelve families.”

They are “visibly traumatised,” Brittain says, and Burhan “spoke softly of how the psychological pressure, especially of the fourth destruction, was very, very difficult for him. He saw relief tents brought by the ICRC put up and immediately brought down by a bulldozer in front of the aid agency staff.

“The three now live in another almost empty replacement home half the size of what they had before and which Burhan built himself in two days, bringing an aluminium roof from Nablus. But every day is lived under the shadow of another onslaught that they know can hit their lives any time.”

Barbara Erickson

4 thoughts on “Scorched Earth in the Jordan Valley, Silence in the Times

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