Following our holiday in the Galilee, I returned to another round of cold and rainy weather and an unfolding story in one of ‘our’ villages. Khirbet Tana is a village that lies 7 km to the east of Yanoun (we are separated by a mountain). Approximately 300 people live in 30 houses which are widely scattered in this fertile valley which has an excellent water source. The people are primarily shepherds and farmers and have lived there for generations. Large caves in the area also provided refuge for the residents of nearby Beit Furik in 1948 when they were driven out of their homes.
The residents of Khirbet Tana have been in an ongoing struggle to remain on their land since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. There was constant harrassment by soldiers, raiding of homes (and remember that no matter how rudimentary these structures may look to us, they are neat and tidy inside and are peoples’ homes with all that that implies), destroying of crops, and a blind eye turned to settler attacks. During our most recent visit, an old man related that in 1983 the Israelis ‘arrested’ all the sheep and the people were told they had to either leave the land or pay a fine of 7 dinars/animal. The people refused to leave and some were able to regain at least a part of their herd.
In 2005, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) returned and placed papers under stones which said that the village would be destroyed. Subsequently 25 homes and the school were demolished. Strangely enough, the only building spared was the mosque. People were arrested and animals again confiscated. But eventually the people returned and houses were rebuilt with the help of funding from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in France and Italy. The current homes are a mixture of concrete buildings, tents, and corrugated iron roofed dwellings that are attached to caves.
On January 26, 2009 the Israeli high court issued a final decision sanctioning the demolition of the village and expulsion of the entire population on the grounds that the area is needed for military training. Unfortunately, recent history shows that similar expulsions are quickly followed by appropriation of the land for more Israeli settlements. No provisions have been made for relocation of the residents as is supposedly required in this process.
We have been visiting Khirbet Tana every other week since the high court decision. However, on Sunday, Feb. 22nd, two families received orders to appear in court on Mar. 19 as they have been charged with building a house without a permit (one wonders about the logic of this since the entire village is to be demolished anyway!) At least five other families received eviction notices giving them 72 hours to move out (the orders were encased in plastic and left under rocks as it was raining heavily). We visited on Tues., spoke with those who had received notices and instructed them to be sure to have a lawyer familiar with Israeli law present when they go to court. In addition we volunteered to either go with them or arrange for another international presence. We also suggested that those that had received eviction notices should remove their belongings to the caves if necessary so that they don’t lose what possessions they have. We obtained copies of all the notices and will see that other agencies are notified. We expressed our sympathy for their situation and said that while we cannot stop what is going to happen, we can stand with them when the bulldozers come, and can tell their story.
These are the times that are so difficult, when we have to return to our house in Yanoun before we weep or throw something. We can’t break down in front of them when they are so brave and so appreciative of the little we have to offer. One elderly woman held my hand while her husband related the most recent events, alternately stroking my face and my hair, giving thanks to Allah for our being there. This is so hard…but I will leave and return to the comfort of my home in three months while these people have no choice but to continue on as best they can in this madness.