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Photo essay: Palestinians displaced as Israel steps up West Bank demolitions

The last week of August saw a sharp increase in home and property demolitions by Israeli authorities after a relatively calm period during Ramadan. Now large-scale operations are forcing the displacement of many Palestinians, particularly targeting isolated communities in the South Hebron Hills.

Palestinians from Um Fagarah village, together with internationals and other Palestinian activists, demonstrate to demand justice for Rachel Corrie and protest house demolitions by marching towards Avigai outpost, South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

On August 28, 2012, an Israeli judge absolved the Israeli state of its responsibility for the killing of U.S. activist Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer while she was protesting house demolitions in Gaza. On the same day as the court decision, Palestinian inhabitants of Um Fagarah, together with other activists, organized a demonstration demanding justice for Rachel Corrie and protesting house demolitions. The demonstration took place just a few kilometers of the village of Susya, which saw three tents (two animal shelters, and one tent for sitting) demolished in the early hours of the same morning.

Mohammad Mousa Abu Ghanam passes in front of one of his animal shelters which was demolished earlier in the day by the Israeli army, in the village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Two of the tents which were demolished had been donated earlier by international aid agencies following previous demolitions targeting the same family. The whole village of Susya is at risk of being demolished as most structures of the village have demolition orders.

A makeshift tent has been erected to provide shade for children after their home was demolished earlier by the Israeli army during a wave of demolitions in Khirbet Zanuta, South Hebron hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

In two other locations very close to each other in South Hebron, Khirbet Zanuta and Tiran,  the demolition was even more severe and devastated the small communities of a few families.

A Palestinian child of Khirbet Zanuta crouches near a well demolished earlier in the day by the Israeli army. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Water wells  were especially targeted. In total, five were demolished. Without this water, the residents cannot remain in their communities as it becomes too costly to buy additional water tanks.

A tent provided by the Red Crescent stands next to what remains of a residential structure that was demolished earlier by the Israeli army in Khirbet Zanuta, South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Some remaining furniture of a residential structure that was demolished by the Israeli army in Khirbet Zanuta, South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Spoiled wheat after the concrete block in which it was stored was demolished during a wave of demolitions in Khirbet Zanuta, South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Two residential structures were also demolished, leaving 25 Palestinians homeless, including 17 children.  Nine animal shelters were also destroyed, leaving the sheep under a burning sun. A concrete block structure which served as reserve storage for wheat was also destroyed, wasting essential food for the animals and people.

Palestinians use makeshift equipment to create shade for their sheep after animal shelters were demolished earlier the same day by the Israeli army, in the village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from Tiran community rebuild an animal shelter the same day the Israeli army demolished three such structures in their village in the South Hebron Hills, August 28, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

In the face of such demolitions, most Palestinians show remarkable “sumud,” an Arabic term roughly denoting “steadfast perseverance.” They will use all the resources they have and gather their strength to rebuild with one goal in mind: not to abandon the lands they have been living in for generations.

A child belonging to the Al Khurshan family takes a mat out of a pile of remaining furniture left outside after a demolition conducted by the Israeli army the previous day in the Al Kurshan Bedouin community, east of Dar Salah, Bethlehem region, August 30, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The same day, other demolitions took place in Jericho and the Nablus area. The following day, four families belonging to the extended Al Khurshan Bedouin family were also devastated by the demolition of their homes and animal shelters located deep inside the Jordan Valley desert, east of Dar Salah, in the Bethlehem region.

Remains of structures after demolitions conducted by the Israeli army the day before in the Al Kurshan Bedouin community, in the Judean desert, east of Dar Salah, Bethlehem region, August 30, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

In total, four residential structures and three animal shelters were demolished, leaving nothing standing and 24 people homeless, including 12 children. Several tents that had been provided by international aid agencies following the previous demolitions a few months ago were also confiscated.

Athia Al Khurshan, owner of residential and animal shelters which were all demolished by the Israeli army, in the desert east of Dar Salah, Bethlehem region, August 30, 2012. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The Israeli army claims that the Al Khurshan families have to leave the area because they live inside “Firing Zone 918.” Approximately 18 percent of the West Bank has been designated by the Israeli authorities as “firing zones,” and some 5,000 Palestinians, mostly Bedouin and herders, live in localities near them.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), during the year 2011, nearly 1,100 people, including over 600 children, were displaced by the demolition of their homes. The number of demolitions rose by 80 percent from 2010, and displaced twice the number of people. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced in and from the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967, many families suffering multiple displacements.

Activestills photographers have been documenting forced displacement for years on both sides of the Green Line and in 2011, in cooperation with the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), published a project called “We Never Finished 1948,” about the continuing campaign of internal displacement in Israel/Palestine.

Activestills is a collective of Israeli, international and Palestinian photographers, united by a conviction that photography is a vehicle for political and social change. To stay updated on our latest images, like Activestills on Facebook  or follow @activestills on Twitter. You can also visit our flickr photostream.

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    1. Kolumn9

      Nobody cares. Seriously.. Nobody cares. Sad, but true. Go ahead. Tell me about the growing blah blah blah in Europe or the coming apocalypse. It is all a bunch of hogwash. Europe is upgrading relations with Israel. So are India, China, Brazil and Russia. There is no apocalypse coming. There is no Messiah coming. What is is what is and what will be. Beyond the mountains are more mountains. And nobody cares.

      Reply to Comment
      • jdledell

        I CARE. It is the cynicism of not caring that caused us great harm in the Shoah. This kind of apathy should be vigorously fought against because, who knows, another Shoah could be around the corner.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          It wasn’t the cynicism of not caring that caused us great harm in the Shoah. It was the Nazis coming in with panzers.

          As for caring. Nope, no one really cares. Not then, not now, not on Israel’s treatment of Arabs, not on Iran’s genocidal rhetoric or its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The only people that care are the ones directly involved. Everyone else is just mouthing off.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jack


            Rather no one buys israeli propaganda anymore, people simply know more today than ever before and to follow up on Finkelstein’s thesis, no one want to defend a state in constant violation international law, wars and threats. Today they level threat against the region constantly, who want to defend War of aggression? No one.

            Since the 2010 tens of states have upgraded (including western states) and a majority of those have recognized Palestine leaving Israel every before isolated on the issue. Not to mention Iran. How many more than Israel could you count on your fingers that want war? No one.

            But please keep on being in denial, one day the whole of west bank will be annexed by Israel, then apartheid is a reality and pressure will be put on Israel like the South African apartheid regime. And who defends the apartheid regime in S. Africa today? No one.

            Get my point?

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            So much nonsense. On Iran every other state has a very different threat perception than Israel, and they don’t care about Israel’s interests or threat perception. This is the normal selfish state of international affairs that many on the left in Israel and globally pretend doesn’t exist and so they must find other reasons why other countries are not playing along when Israel’s interests and Israel itself are threatened by another genocidal regime.

            Personally, I welcome the recognition of Palestine and I welcome all Palestinians’ attempts to upgrade their status internationally. To use your analogy it is the equivalent of 120 countries recognizing the sovereignty of Transkei and the Transkei government celebrating every time it is recognized. The Boers would have been overjoyed at such a development. When both Israel and Palestine are recognized states what you have is called a two state situation with a border dispute, throwing the whole ridiculous analogy you like to tout out permanently. So we see the two dynamics you put your hopes on work in completely opposite directions. I am surprised somebody as wise as you doesn’t notice the contradiction. Perhaps you really should study more about the South African case before alluding to it. Oh, and Israel isn’t going to annex the West Bank. Why bother when it can exercise completely control over it without annexation? And if it does annex it which state will recognize it granting the move international legitimacy? You whole line of reasoning is hilarious.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jack


            Yes people that reject reality tend to call facts and thus reality “nonsense” you just approved what I said about being in denial.

            Of course the rest of the 193 or so states have a different perception about threat. Did you figure out that now? Rest of the world are obviously not prone to violence and war to that extent of Israel, they dont want it and surely they dont want to use their military power to go to war for a third party. They also see through the hollow ´cry wolf´ argumentation by Israel since it is Israel that keep level credible threats every week. Last week we heard this the ‘pray-for-annhilation-of-iran-threat’ by the rabbi.

            Yes recognition of Palestine is positive? What if Palestine wasnt recognized by those 100s of states? Surely that would be a proof that palestinians, not the israelis, were isolated on the issue. So thats why I brought it up as a counter-argument to the fact that the world really care. At the same time I could gave you credit too since the world could do alot of more trying to solve the conflict.

            There is a continuing annexation of the West bank and sooner or later the result of such actions will be apartheid. And since when did Israel care about international legitimacy? Who recognize the annexation today? No one.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Again, you are confusing words for deeds. No, the world doesn’t care. They make noises about the Palestinians, including recognizing a state, but what practical effort have you seen to make it a reality? Nothing, klum, bubkes. It is exactly the same words and lack of deeds that accompanies declarations about the unacceptability of a nuclear Iran. That’s right, the world doesn’t really care there either, so if Israel has a different threat perception it has to act on its own, though so far the saber rattling itself has cost Iran billions. Well, maybe the words recognizing a Palestinian state are even less meaningful because on Iran at least someone is willing to resort to sanctions and deploy forces to the Persian Gulf. Here, what are they doing? A photo op and the suspension of disbelief. Legal/diplomatic terms turned into absurdist fiction. Use Occam’s razor. Do you know why there is so little action on the Palestinian issue? Because no one gives a crap. It really is that simple.

            There is no continuing annexation of the West Bank. Annexation is something that either happens or doesn’t happen. It is a binary state. You can say there is continuing colonization if you want to look for vague terms, but annexation has a very explicit legal meaning that you are misusing. Israel officially annexed the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. The West Bank is in that disputed grey zone it has been for 40+ years and will seemingly be for a very long time.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jack


            Of course you are going to repeat your message but that just add to the denial claim I was making.

            Israel is going to act on its own you say, you mean like Iraq acted on its own on Kuwait? Apparently you dont grasp the reason why whole world are opposed to war and violence to the extent Israel apparently are and obviously doesnt Israel state understand why either and thats what making them such big threat against peace.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Destroying water wells in a desert is an abomination.

      Memory cares. Story cares. And story travels beyond all mountains. To make your stand on the same apathy as the enemies of your past converts you into those enemies, in new clothing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Memories and stories die with time and old people. They don’t matter in the present and their influence in the future is entirely dependent on prevailing political conditions and narratives.

        Apathy is reality and accepting it is liberating. The alternative is to expect the world to be different from what it really is and to always be disappointed with humanity. It isn’t about enemies of the past, present or future. It is about making the right decisions in the world as it is without the useless embellishments.

        Reply to Comment
        • What about all those stories of Jewish suffering? They seem to have some value in Israeli discourse.

          As I understand it, you seem to be saying that because on one cares one may make the right decision. Interesting view of “right.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Stories of suffering are always personal. Using them in discourse for group mobilization, education or anything else is a political endeavor.

            I am saying the right policy decisions on the state level have to take into account the world as it is, not as we may want it to be. The ‘world’ consists of people that are extremely selfish creatures and have little concern for the suffering of others. This is true both locally and internationally. Policy based on pretending otherwise is doomed to disappointment and disillusion. Some can afford to pursue such illusions because they have a lot of room for adverse consequences, others have much less space for self-delusion.

            Reply to Comment
          • Perhaps with the Russian immigration the Law of Return has reached that point.

            Under your logic, West Bank Palestinians should resist you at every step; for your selfishness shall destroy them. Even if that selfishness is a group phenomenon.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Greg, under my logic the West Bank Palestinians are driven by the same selfishness as everyone else and their actions are entirely reasonable and predictable. The question for them is whether ‘resistance’ is a fruitful approach to pursuing their own selfish goals or whether it is counter-productive. My view is that at present the Palestinians will gain nothing through ‘resistance’ and their best selfish approach is to negotiate a pragmatic resolution to the conflict.

            Reply to Comment

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