Threatened Bedouin refugee village in the shadows of settlements

12 January 2012

Wadi Abu Hindi, West Bank
12 January 2012

10 December was International Human Rights Day, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. To mark the day, OHCHR (oPT) and UNRWA have put the spotlight on human rights stories and rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. In this series, we look at how various Israeli practices in the oPt affect the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians, raising questions about the protection of their human rights.

Samira Al Waled* lives in a small Bedouin community of 36 families beneath the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, in Area C of the West Bank. The community became refugees in 1948 and eventually settled in Wadi Abu Hindi in the 1970s. Samira’s large family includes two children under the age of five, and an ailing grandparent.

However, the families of Wadi Abu Hindi currently have neither a sufficient standard of living, nor adequate housing . The community cannot build a new structure, even a small room to use as a kindergarten, for fear of all 36 families’ homes being demolished.

99 demolition orders

The Israeli authorities have issued a demolition order for every structure in the community, amounting to 99 demolition orders in total. The demolition orders apply not only to residential structures, but also include a primary school that serves around 150 students between first and eighth grades from the community and surrounding villages.

The community lives with the constant threat that their homes and other structures may soon be demolished. The uncertainty of not knowing from one day to the next whether they will have a roof over their heads places the community under immense stress, not to mention the psychological trauma that would ensue if the community members were left without homes or access to primary education.

Samira dreams of electricity in her home. “Our children are falling behind in school because it is dark by the time they come home. How can they do well on exams?” Though electricity, which would allow her to have utilities like a refrigerator, would greatly ease Samira’s own life, “the most important thing is that the children can study and use a computer”.

She stands in the middle of a small garden beside her home where small olive trees, cauliflower, spinach, and herbs grow. “We would plant more trees, but we cannot let ourselves believe we’re staying. We can’t even let ourselves hope that we will be able to build real homes – it is too hard to dream and be disappointed”.

Not giving up

However, the families in Wadi Abu Hindi have not given up. Despite the hardships endured, these communities remain steadfast in their hope that their basic human rights will one day be realised.

Under international human rights law, everyone has the freedom to choose their own residence. International human rights law also provides that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing, as well as the right to an education. Moreover, forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of international human rights law, in particular the right to adequate housing and the freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home. If Israeli authorities proceed as planned, their actions will threaten the enjoyment of these rights and freedoms.

The bigger picture

In order to build homes in East Jerusalem and Area C, Palestinians must apply for a permit from the Israeli authorities, who control these areas. The vast majority of demolition orders are issued because a home or structure has been built without an Israeli permit.

Building without a permit means that the structure is considered “illegal” by Israeli authorities. Under the Israeli zoning policy, Palestinians can build in just 13 per cent of East Jerusalem and in just 1 per cent of Area C. In both cases these areas are already heavily built up.

Ultimately, the number of permits granted to Palestinians each year falls far below the demand. More than 94 per cent of all Palestinian permit applications have been rejected in recent years.

This means that when a family expands or a community wants to build infrastructure to meet its basic needs, the choice faced is between building without a permit, or not building at all. Many end up building to meet their immediate needs in the hope that they will be able to avoid demolition.

UNRWA and OHCHR call on the Israeli authorities to respect their obligations under international law and cease all violations of human rights.

*Name changed to protect anonymity

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