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Date posted: June 16, 2008
By Yasmin Abou-Amer for MIFTAH

Last Sunday, I embarked upon a two and a half hour journey to the borders of the Jordan Valley, to a Palestinian village in the West Bank named Aqaba. Aqaba lies to the east of Tubas city and has an area of 3,500 dunums. It seems entirely set back from the rest of the West Bank and it even has it own entrance with a welcome sign. You need to drive along a long, sandy road in order to get there. This picture shows the entrance sign to Aqaba. Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted by the wheelchair-bound head of the Village Council, Haj Sami Sadeq with whom I had scheduled an interview. He kindly invited me into his office so we could discuss the fate of Aqaba at the hands of the Israeli Civil Administration. Aqaba, this small, unremarkable village tucked away in the corner of the West Bank, whose inhabitants live a simple and quiet life, is currently in the headlines on a regular basis.

Aqaba village is situated in Area C of the West Bank, between two Israeli military bases. A third base, which was located at the village’s western entrance was dismantled in June 2003. The area was declared a closed military zone in 1967. The population size has been diminished to only 300 people, down from above 1,000 prior to the 1967 War. The village was declared a military zone for purely strategic reasons, with Israel citing “security reasons” as its motive. A lot of the displaced families that left Aqaba left due to Israeli aggression towards them, choosing to go and live in the nearby cities of Tayaseer, Tubas and Nablus.

The Oslo negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) called for the transfer of power from the Israeli military and its civil administration over to the Palestinian Authority. As part of the overall process, the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip divided the West Bank (excluding east Jerusalem) into three areas: A, B and C. In Area C, Israel retained full military and civil control; approximately 74% of the West Bank has been categorized as Area C. Even though the interim arrangements as defined by these parameters were supposed to be temporary, as no final political settlement has been agreed between Israelis and Palestinians, the situation remains frozen. Ever since the occupation of 1967, Palestinians have required a permit from the Israeli Government in order to build on the land.

In 2004, the Israeli Civil Administration issued demolition orders for the whole village of Aqaba, citing the buildings in the village as “illegal structures”. The Israeli Army’s Military Order 143/04, issued on May 8, 2007, ordered the confiscation of 80% of the village lands and the demolition of all structures not within the village’s Master Plan, which was devised by the army. Currently, 35 of the 45 structures in the village have received demolition orders due to a “lack of a permit”. These include privately-owned homes.

The village itself, explained Haj Sami, is used predominantly for farming and grazing. It is clear though that if the demolitions go ahead, it will be impossible for the farmers to continue to make a living. Just looking around at the sparsely populated village, it is evident that although Aqaba is not a thriving community, those that live there are loyal to their roots and enjoy the simplicity of the life they lead. The only sound we hear as we stand outside his office is the laughter of children playing in the nearby nursery playground, some of them too young to understand how fragile their existence is.

Haj Sami Sadeq himself was born in 1955. An original resident of Aqaba village, he has first-hand experience of not just the occupation of the village and the rest of Palestine, but also violence at the hands of the Israelis. As a young man, he was shot by Israeli troops and had to be treated at a hospital in Jericho. He has been in a wheelchair ever since. He assumed the position of Head of the Village Council in 1997 and he informs me that the majority of his work is of a voluntary nature. I found it remarkable that this man is devoting all his time to drawing attention to the plight of the village and raising international awareness. He proudly tells me that, as a village, they have succeeded in many things; namely, drawing awareness to the international community, in particular to American and European organizations. He says that the village is also proud of their successful removal of the military base in June 2003 from the entrance to the village. After this decision, some people returned to the village.

Once we sat down in his office, I noticed a large purple file sitting on the desk. I asked Haj Sami what it contained. He handed it over to me. I opened it and found inside hundreds of documents, the majority of which were written in Hebrew. He told me that the file was the history of the court case. The papers were all court orders, demolition orders and relevant correspondence. Most recently, on April 17, 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court was petitioned by the village of Aqaba (represented by Israeli Advocate Eli Tusya-Cohen) to cancel the demolition orders that were placed on the village in 2004. Accordingly, all the petitions were rejected. The court did however state that, “nevertheless, we acknowledge the Respondents’ statement according to which a limited zone in the center of the village -- where there are residential buildings and public buildings built without a permit – has been marked, and the Respondents are not planning to demolish them for the time being.” So, for now, the fate of this village hangs in the balance. For as long as there is international interest in the area, and the spotlight remains firmly on the injustices being committed in the name of strategic purpose, it is likely that no further demolitions will take place just yet.

Anyway, the army's new willingness to recognize the presence of Palestinians in Aqaba is due first and foremost to the incredible courage and steadfastness of the Aqaba villagers themselves, and also to the willingness of people around the world, both organizations and the embassies representing governments, to invest in this village.

Whilst talking to Haj Sami, I noticed a nursery for children outside the office where we sat. He explained to me that the US-based “Rebuilding Alliance”, along with the Japanese and Belgian embassies had helped fund and build that nursery. His gratitude was apparent, despite the situation facing the village. He went on to explain that the international community has contributed in more ways than one; Britain helped to build a hall for the town and Belgium contributed to a bus that services the village. He went on to explain that Canadian and Italian organizations were amongst the first to help in 1999. To date, the village has received approximately $874,760 of foreign aid for the school, road construction, the nursery and the clinic.

However, the odd donation here and there is not enough. The international community needs to stand up and take notice. If one village can be saved from destruction, it would set a strong precedent for future villages facing demolition - and sure enough there will be future demolitions - allowing the Palestinians to envisage a future free of devastation.

Read More ...

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Source: MIFTAH
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