Al-Aqaba: A Dehydrated Village

Al-Aqaba, photo by Nasrat DakwarAl-Aqaba, photo by Nasrat Dakwar

Background
 
The village of al-Aqaba in the Tubas governorate is located entirely within Area C – the region under Israeli civilian as well as military control. This village, existing since the early twentieth century, had a population of 600-1,000 prior to 1967. Most of the villagers then lived in tents and engaged in agriculture. After occupation of the West Bank, the area of the village was declared a closed military zone and used as a firing zone, including the use of live fire. Military training exercises, conducted near and between the village homes, have been held at all hours of day and night, seriously disrupting the calm of the village as well as the lives of the villagers, their livelihood, and above all, their right to life and safety.  Over the years, six villagers, including a six-year-old girl, were killed as a result of shooting or unexploded ordnance. 38 villagers were wounded. Most of the residents gradually left the village, which is now reduced to 30 households and some 200 residents.
 
Legal Procedures Concerning the Firing Zone
 
In 1999 with the assistance of the Association for Civil Rights for Israel (ACRI), residents of al-Aqaba petitioned the Supreme Court to halt military training exercises inside their village and fields, and to revoke the order turning the village into a closed military zone. As a result of this petition, the IDF established procedures for military training near the village, which included the regulations that no live ammunition would be used in the area and that soldiers would not conduct training exercises near the village homes. These regulations were violated several times in 2012: In July, for example, soldiers entered the village in the middle of the night and carried out a training exercise in which live fire was used.
 
Efforts to legalize construction in the village
 
Al-Aqaba does not have an approved town plan. Many of its houses are at risk of demolition, and agricultural structures and access roads are frequently destroyed. In 2004, the villagers, represented by Atty. Eli Toussia-Cohen, petitioned the High Court of Justice to revoke the demolition orders against village structures and to prepare a town plan that will enable residents to obtain construction permits. In 2008, as a result of this petition, the Civil Administration defined a specific area within the village in which planning laws will not be enforced. However, many homes and most of the village agricultural lands fall outside this area. The Court rejected the petition, but gave binding validity to the proposal of the Civil Administration.
 
Since that Court decision, the al-Aqaba residents submitted several planning proposals and town planning schemes to the Civil Administration. All were rejected, both on professional grounds related to details of the plans themselves and for general reasons. In July 2012, for example, in its decision to deny the proposed town plan submitted by the villagers, the Civil Administration noted that the al-Aqaba residents had the option of moving to the nearby village of Tayasir. The Civil Administration also expressed the fear that “the main purpose of the plan…is to legalize the illegal construction carried out there over the years”. These general reasons suggest that the Civil Administration has no intention of approving any town plan for this village, meaning that the village will remain without any planning status and its residents will never be able to build there legally.
 
In July 2012, new demolition orders were issued for several structures in the village, including homes. Residents petitioned the High Court to revoke these orders, and the Court issued a temporary injunction to put off the demolitions until 14 October 2012.
 
Water Connection
 
In 2004, al-Aqaba was connected to the electrical grid by the Civil Administration, but it has never been connected to the water infrastructure. Villagers are forced to use the sparse rainwater collected in the wells, but primarily they rely on the purchase of water from tankers, which significantly raises the price of water for them: Water from the tankers costs 25 NIS per cubic meter ‒ several times more than water in Israel or the settlements.
 
In June 2010, ACRI asked the Civil Administration to connect the village to the water infrastructure. This request was turned down in November 2010 on the grounds that the village cannot be connected without an approved town plan. This argument creates an absurdity in which the villagers are twice punished for no fault of their own – the state refuses to recognize their right to build homes on their land, and therefore it denies them a connection to water – a basic condition for a decent life.
 
In June 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that access to water is a constitutional right derived from the right to human dignity, and that the state is responsible for ensuring basic access to water, even if planning and construction laws were violated. Following this ruling, ACRI again appealed to the Civil Administration in July 2011 with a request to connect al-Aqaba to the water infrastructure. In August 2012, the Civil Administration issued a final decision to reject this request based on military law, which conditions connecting a structure to water and electricity upon its being built with a permit. The Civil Administration’s decision does not mention the High Court ruling or the fact that al-Aqaba is already connected to the electrical grid.
 
ACRI’s Position
 
For decades, the villagers of al-Aqaba have endured severe violation of their fundamental rights – the right to life and physical integrity, property rights, freedom of movement, the right to housing, and the right to human dignity. These violations contravene international law, which obligates the occupying power to ensure the well-being of residents of an occupied territory and safeguard their rights, and are also in contravention of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and a Supreme Court ruling.
 
Al-Aqaba residents wage a constant battle for survival, with the authorities indifferent to their existence, caging them into an area of several hundred square meters, impeding their access to nearby villages and towns, and preventing a reasonable supply of water – even though these villagers are living on land that belonged to their ancestors. These are substandard conditions for human beings.
 
The State of Israel must recognize the village, create a town plan, connect them to water, and ensure the safety and welfare of its residents.
 

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Categories: Area C Villages, The Occupied Territories, The Right to Health, The Right to Property, Water

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