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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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.