We visited the village of Dkaika (pronounced Guy Ga) today, located about a 75 minute drive south east of Yatta. It is located in Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, approximately 2km north of the Green Line (the boundary with Israel), but only 200 metres from the planned barrier (“the wall”) route. Nestled in a desert valley surrounded by beautiful hills, it consists of a number of tent homes, animal structures, a school, a mosque and has a cemetery that dates back to the Ottoman period. The village is recognized by the Palestinian Authority as an independent village.
We drive through absolutely breath-taking desert scenery to get there. Going to Dkaika is one of my favourite trips as an EA in the South Hebron Hills.
Unfortunately, however, Dkaika is literally in a fight for its life. Shortly after arriving here in September, we received an email from Rabbi’s for Human Rights, an Israeli human rights organization (see www.rhr.org.il/eng) informing us of impending demolition orders on the village. (see http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/2011/09/demolition-orders-on-dqeiqa-village/)
Dkaika has been in an ongoing legal battle with the State of Israel since 2005. Rabbi’s for Human Rights has provided legal assistance for the village. In December 2010, a portion of the school was demolished by the army. Through funding provided by UNICEF and labour provided by Islamic Relief, a new school consisting of 5 classrooms, an office and a small kitchen has been built. Students moved into the new facility last month.
On November 1, the Civil Administration ( a branch of the Israeli Defense Force) arrived in the village with 36 demolition orders applying to 46 structures. According to the office of Dov Hanin, a member of the Israeli Knesset, these orders directly affect a population of 220 people, 700 sheep and goats, 20 camels, 55 poultry and 3 donkeys. The demolition orders are on a variety of structures, including 5 communal toilets, a cistern and a quarrying preparation for a cistern, a number of animal structures and a number of residential tents. No demolition order was issued for the school, although villagers were told on a previous Civil Administration visit that they have no right to have the building there and it must be removed or else the army will demolish it.
In speaking with Sulaiman Najada, the English teacher at the school, the orders read that the affected structures must be removed by November 26 and if they are not removed by that date, the army will come and demolish them. A lawyer for Rabbi’s for Human Rights is working on the case.
Mr Najada spoke to us of how the teachers have worked hard “to create a positive learning environment” for the students. The new building has been an asset for learning. On our last visit, we met 2 representatives of “Right to Play,” an international organization whose mission is “to improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace” (see http://www.righttoplay.com). It was so much fun to watch the children play, to see the smiles on their faces as they participated in the games, and to share in their excitement as they each received a new Right to Play backpack and water bottle. The atmosphere today was far more subdued. Now, said Mr Najada, this new demolition order “overwhelms everything.”
He spoke of students expressing fear, of their perception of the army as “the enemy,” and of increased aggressive behaviour amongst the students following the demolition order. He said that he sees the affects of this stress on the students now and that it is negatively affecting student learning.
He also spoke of his personal concerns for the students should this demolition be enacted at this time of year. “It’s dreadful. It’s winter. Where will they go? Who will help them?”
I had no answers. I have no answers.
We promised to advocate on behalf of Dkaika and to work to support efforts to block these demolition orders. Mr Nuwaja promised to call us if the demolition equipment moves into the village.
Somehow, it seemed fitting that the sky over the desert was grey as we drove back to Yatta. Storm clouds threaten.
Rain would be welcome. Demolitions are not.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,