Ein al-Rashash, occupied West Bank – Days after Israeli forces demolished the Bedouin community of Ein al-Rashash last month, residents were scrambling to rebuild their shelters as heavy rain clouds loomed on the horizon.
Unlike some Bedouin communities that have been targeted for demolition on multiple occasions, this was the first time Israeli forces had descended on this small mountain community with bulldozers.
“They destroyed everything,” resident Fatma Zawahra told Al Jazeera. She pointed to a couple of spots in a pile of twisted metal, wood and tarp on the ground. “This used to be our bathroom, and there was my kitchen.”
They told us to leave, but they didn't say where. Where should we go with all these women and children - just take our things and start walking?
February marked the highest number of home demolitions in the occupied West Bank since the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) began recording in 2009, according to a recent statement. “During the month, Israeli forces destroyed, dismantled or confiscated 235 homes and other structures, displacing 331 Palestinians, including 174 children, and affecting another 740 Palestinians,” the statement noted.
In Ein al-Rashash alone, Israeli forces destroyed 10 homes and 33 other structures “due to lack of building permits”, UNOCHA noted. At least 59 residents lost their homes, and another 35 people – totaling the entire population – were affected by the demolitions.
Throughout the first six weeks of 2016, more than 400 Palestinians were displaced by home demolitions, according to UN data – more than half the total number in all of 2015.
“Most of the demolitions in the West Bank take place on the spurious legal grounds that Palestinians do not possess building permits,” said Robert Piper, the Coordinator for Humanitarian and UN Development Activities for the occupied Palestinian territory. “But in Area C, official Israeli figures indicate only 1.5 percent of Palestinian permit applications are approved … So what legal options are left for a law-abiding Palestinian?”
Area C, which constitutes 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, is under full Israeli control. More than 225 illegal Israeli settlements and settlement outposts are located here, as Israeli authorities have turned a “blind eye” to illegal construction, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Last month, the EU Missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah released a statement expressing “deep concern at an unprecedented number of demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian structures in Area C in recent weeks”. The statement specifically mentioned “the virtual complete destruction” of Ein al-Rashash.
Abu Khaled Zawahra, a resident of Ein al-Rashash who shares a last name with many people in the community, said they now have nowhere to go. Residents had hired a lawyer to fight their case in Israeli court after demolition orders were initially issued last November.
“We hoped the lawyer could stop it from happening,” Abu Khaled said. “[Israeli forces] told us to leave, but they didn’t say where. Where should we go with all these women and children – just take our things and start walking? We did that before; our families are refugees from 1948 and were displaced again in 1967.
“If we did move and settled somewhere else, they would just come again and again,” he added. “It will never stop.”
Earlier this month, the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) speculated that Israeli authorities were clearing the Ein al-Rashash area to make more room for an adjacent Israeli military base.
“Palestinian herders and farmers are denied access to the lands in close proximity of the base,” ARIJ stated in a recent report. “Additionally, the military base constantly represented a threat to the lives of the Palestinians living nearby due to the Israeli army’s training.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli government did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the issue.
Sleiman Zawahra, another resident of the village, said he often heard explosions going off in the distance.
“The Bedouin life is a peaceful one,” he said. “We are farmers; we raise animals, we take care of our children and teach them our way of life, but it has become so hard to continue like this. Sometimes it is so quiet in the mountains, and then the explosions start and the animals go crazy and the children are scared.”
While the Palestinian Authority (PA) has no jurisdiction over Ein al-Rashash, PA officials have brought tents for residents to set up while they rebuild their homes from scraps of corrugated metal and tarp.
Sleiman said his community was thankful for the help, but the tents will not help them in the cold, wet weather.
“Of all the things I cannot get over, is that they did this during the winter,” Sleiman said. “It is the rainy period now. What kind of people could do that to other humans? They destroyed our homes, and now it will rain soon. We aren’t sure what we will do; there aren’t any caves in the area.”
Sleiman and Abu Khaled were also worried for their sheep – their main source of income. Without barns or caves to protect the animals, many could die.
“In a modern world, it is hard enough to maintain our way of life,” Sleiman said. “I can’t bear the thought of my children not continuing our culture; but when I look at the reality Israel has created for us, I am terrified. I think my children have no future.”
Additional reporting by Abed al-Qaisi