visiting the demolished homes of Bedouin families in Fasssail jordan valley
Departure at 7 a.m. from Segula Junction, Petah Tiqwa.
7:30 Zaatara Checkpoint – Tapuach Junction. Settlers stand waiting at the hitchhikers' spot. Three armed soldiers secure them.
7:40 Maale Efrayim Checkpoint – no soldiers in sight, therefore no Palestinian vehicles delayed at the checkpoint.
We pass through Lower Fassail on our way to meet the Bedouin family we visited 10 days ago after their home had been demolished by the Civil Administration. They live in Middle Fassail, home of the most weakened population there – the Bedouins. 15-20 encampments are scattered at the site. Their dwellers must reach their better-off neighbors in Lower Fassail when they wish to reach the grocery or infirmary. The two populations do not mix, however. The Bedouins children attend elementary school in Middle Fassail. Better-off Lower Fassail has a separate school.
The Bedouins originate from the Negev, mostly from Tel Arad and some from Ein Gedi. They were removed from their original area to Al Ujja in 1948. Then they were moved to Fassail, and now the Israeli authorities try to remove them from their current site yet again. But they have no alternative solution. So they live under constant threat of demolition and eviction. They have nowhere to go. In 2006 15 homes were demolished and in 2008 another 6 homes. Lately, several homes were demolished again. Since Middle Fassail is located in Area C, anything constructed there is bound for demolition, including tents. The attempt to demolish an elementary school there raised international attention. In 2007 such an attempt was made for the first time, and lately, it has been repeated. The resistance of local inhabitants along with a group of international standing in the way of the bulldozer stopped the destruction.
The family we are visiting has moved to live under the ficus tree. The father has gone to Jericho. His wife H. does not know the purpose of his journey. We sit with her and with the wife of her eldest son H. and baby A., the grandchild lying on a blanket next to us.
H. tells us that her husband is of the Rashashaida tribe near Ein Gedi. They came about 15 years ago. Previously they lived in Ujja. TO our question whether they go out to do their shopping, the two women say they do not, not even to the nearby neighborhood, Lower Fassail. The husband does the shopping, the wife is bound to “her home”. After about an hour, the second son, 7-year old A. comes home from school (first grade). Obviously the home demolition has affected him. He seems nervous. We are told that before the demolition they lived in a house with a kitchen and bathroom… This is not life, as H. keeps repeating. We nod in agreement. A leaking water tank is also at hand under the shady tree. H. tells us that the water is purchased from Mekorot (the Israeli water company). Expensive, she says. Water for farming, not good drinking water, comes for two hours once every four days.
Around, outdoors, all their possessions are scattered, the entire household, dusty and crumpled: pots, pans, an old TV set, refrigerator, washing machine, household utensils, ventilator and other electrical appliances. They show us the electricity cables that have been cut. Before the demolition they were connected to the power grid (power lines pass nearby). The demolition crew took care to cut all the cables and disconnect all the electrical appliances they had used: their refrigerator, washing machine, solar plates, ventilator, TV, all thrown outdoors and useless.
After about an hour we take our leave and promise the women and ourselves that we shall return and visit. These noble women caught our hearts with their modesty and friendliness, in spite of their unbearable living conditions. Last time, when we first met them, they refused to take the money we wished to give them, so we gave the child toys we had in our car and a sack of clothes.
Exiting Middle Fassail we see another family whose home has been demolished, and who lives around their ficus tree. A young woman came out towards us with a baby. We stopped the car. We understood that she was inviting us to visit under the large tree. Another Israeli vehicle was there – Haaretz photographer Alex Livek and a friend, this time on a private visit. They were sitting with the head of the family, A. and another woman, S, a 16-year old daughter and a baby. The place is neat. They have fenced in a kind of yard around the tree and planted some fruit trees and an olive tree. After the Israeli guests left, the family members told us of their difficult lives here. A. has 8 children, he cannot work, they have no money for the most basic nourishment, not even for tomatoes and cucumbers, or clothes. Nothing. The woman showed us the torn garment she had on. We gave them clothing sacks. It was difficult to watch them pouncing on them and not waiting for us to leave. S. complained of the rough hygienic conditions. She bared an arm covered with insect bites and wounds needing care. They also complained about the condition of their teeth. They cannot afford dental care. They told us how they have to tie the year-old baby’s ankle so he would remain in the shade and not crawl away to the scathing sun. We gave them a small amount of money especially so the woman could go see a doctor…
12:30 We left Fassail and proceed along road no. 90 through Al Ujja to Beit Ha’Arava Junction. From there we took road no. 1 westwards, following reports we received about demolitions around Maale Adumim. We wanted to reach the encampment at Bir Al Maksub. The man whom Rabbis for Human Rights recommended we meet was in Jericho. On the phone he told us that there were many demolitions there last week. Following his instructions we reached Bir Al Maksub but saw no debris. Two young women came towards us. In answer to our question they said the demolitions were on the hill. It was extremely hot and we had no possibility of climbing uphill.
13:00 We left the site and the Bedouins near Maale Adumim, and tried to reach the Silouan area, the Bedouin village of A-Za’im. Our contact there was not answering the phone and we lost our way inside the large and bustling town of Azariya. Our first time there. On our left we saw Abu Dis. Suddenly location names become real. We drove through Azariya until we reached the Separation Wall. A horrendous sight!
13:40 We turned back and took road 1 towards Jerusalem and homeward bound.
I can just imagine the Civil Administration official sitting in his air-conditioned office, gazing at a map with his aerial photographs and drawing a circle around the simple, miserable tent of the Abu Zeida family. Tomorrow he will send the bulldozers and soldiers to demolishe it. Was this official wearing a white glove, like the one worn by the fellow in Europe, 70 years ago? How can such meanness, such cruelty be understood, to brutalize people this way, at 45 degrees centigrade in an arid, desolate wasteland? And the guys coming in with the bulldozers? Don’t they possess even a tiny spark of humanity? And the soldiers who come to secure the demolition crew – did they look on indifferently? Were these youngsters who in their school years learned to “respect the other”?
I have a single answer: they were all normal people like the ones in Christopher Browning’s book. And what about us? We are bystanders! We come and take pictures, talk with the people, and go back to our comfortable homes.