Isolation and elimination

In March 2016, I visited al-Hadidiya for a research project I was doing for the Land Defense Coalition. I spoke with Abu Saqar, an older man who weighed every word and had a strange, and for an interviewer/researcher maddening, way of interacting: he would always answer a question, but never volunteer any additional information, even if that information was relevant. It took me all day to figure that out.

There are many places like this—Susiya in the South Hebron Hills, the Jahalin in Khan al-Ahmar outside of Jerusalem, and other smaller groups in the Jordan Valley—that have been effectively isolated, their geographical distance from urban centers weaponized against them through Israel's military, legal, and administrative regimes. 

Al-Hadidya is tiny, a collection of tents trapped in-between Israel military bases and the Roi settlement. The land on which it sits belongs to owners from Tubas, and prior to 2001, people from Tubas would come and farm this land. But after the start of the 2nd Intifada, Israel banned anyone with a Tubas or Tammun ID from entering. The current al-Hadidiya residents snuck in on tractors, and have been there ever since.

These sorts of places, small populations that sort of form islands in a sea of direct Israeli control and presence, puts them in the crosshairs of settler project. Home demolition is the most effective means of removal. Abu Saqar, as one of the leaders of the community, interfaces with movements as well as all the NGOs that attempt to provide support, has probably told this story many times. As a result, its not raw, but precise with dates, times, numbers. They have been demolished 6 times, he told me: 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2015. All the other times, however, the army came and destroyed them a single time, then left. In 2015, there was a sort of hellish repetition. Here are my notes, which basically follow the cadence: 

November 25: They destroyed the road that they had made that links al-Hadidya together (he told me this after the home demolitions issue)

November 26: 7:00am demotion - 4:00pm put up tent from Red Cross - 6:00pm destroyed the tent - 10:30pm ACTED came with tents, 11:00pm destroyed.

November 27: 7:00am rebuilt tents - 8:00am destroyed it

November 28: Came and confiscated the tent - got 3 tents from the PA Ministry of Local Government and rebuilt

November 29: Army destroys tents

November 30: Rebuilt - army returns, destroys and confiscates. Run out of tents, so make shelter out of wood, rope and plastic. They wanted to cover the kids from the rain. They pulled the plastic off them while they slept.

16 days of respite, sleeping on the ground.

December 12: Decision made to (stay demotion? I have the order, Hebrew though) at the HCJ in Jerusalem.

December 13: The paper itself is brought to al-Hadidiya

December 14: ACTED brings tents, the army comes, Abu Saqar displays the paper (he can't read it), they go away.

Since then, there hasn't been any demolitions. But jeeps have often come to the community. The local commander once visited and pointed to the tents say "all these structures are new," showed him the court order and he left.

Remains of a home demolition.

Remains of a home demolition.

This politically induced isolation also intensifies other sources. Because, even under military occupation, capital continues to structure social relations, and forms like commodity exchange, private property, and the like continue to operate with their attendant compulsion and exclusions. In situations like this one, occupation creates relations of exploitation, risk, and shortage that make hanging on even harder. 

First, land ownership. Since moving there in 2001, they have effectively been farming the land ever since because the owners were forced to abandon it. There are no written contracts, only oral agreements between al-Hadidiya and these owners. Effectively, they wait for the rainy months. If there is rain in December, then they will decide to plant. They pay 5 Jordanian Dinars for each dunum they plant. If they plant nothing, they don't pay. They try to only plant if it looks like there will be rain, because again, irrigation is an issue. This whole thing is gamble, every year. 

People also planted olive trees for the purpose of establishing property rights. Another gamble that may or may not pay off.

People also planted olive trees for the purpose of establishing property rights. Another gamble that may or may not pay off.

Second, market exchange. While the families of al-Hadidiya likely get support from those who are waged or salaried in cities, for those that live in the area animal husbandry is a key source of income. This would be a problem even if there wasn't direct military occupation; herd sizes have been shrinking drastically since 1967, since it's hard to compete with Israeli dairy and also because pasture land is claimed and closed by Israel as state land. But here, it’s even more of an issue. Refrigeration and transportation leave people at the mercy of merchants who visit several times a week to purchase directly in al-Hadidya.

Goats being goats.

Goats being goats.

A similar market is created for water. The water comes from Ein Bayda, from two people, one from Tammun and one from Tubas. They have water rights there and buy the water for 40 shekels and sell it for 250 shekels in al-Hadidiya. They come every day. I asked Abu Saqar why they don't buy it themselves, and the issue is transportation: a tractor can only a small amount, and with the current price of diesel, it makes the trip not cost effective (to say nothing of time). Further, these water merchants are not the only ones with rights from Ein Bayda, but they are the only ones that sell to al-Hadidya (also they sell to Humsa, Makhul, and others that are in these military zones). I asked him why they can get away with charging so much: “the big fish eat the little fish,” he replied. But, he said, there is also the issue of risk: the others with water rights are too scared to sell it here due to risks of being fined or having your vehicle or the water confiscated. The risks are serious. On November 24, 2015 one car [I'm not sure if it was a water truck or not, I don't think so], was confiscated by the military from al-Hadidiya on the grounds that it was in a military zone. It was impounded near Salfit (probably in Ariel) for 2 months, and the owner eventually had to pay a 4,000 NIS fine to get it back.

Water tank in al-Hadidiya.

Water tank in al-Hadidiya.

Under these conditions, there are basically spaces for entrepreneurs to fill in the gaps created by the occupation and, if they are willing to take the risks, exploit the situation to make a profit. It's difficult, without seeing their books and talking to them, to get a sense of exactly how much they make, and how the justify it and talk about it (it's clearly not easy), but it seems there is a sense in al-Hadidiya that they are being taken advantage of by everyone. 

The late Patrick Wolfe wrote that settler colonialism is about elimination, and it’s an insight that really cuts to the heart of what is going on here.

Another thing here. People on the left celebrate communities like al-Hadidiya for hanging on, defending the land, for being steadfast. We should. But also, we should remember that land defense can be a miserable existence. Being forced to stay, in a sense, is being forced to live a life that one does not want to live. “Israel,” Abu Saqar told me (as he has told others) “forces us to live like Bedouin [but] we are landowners.” In other words, they are not fighting to persevere a traditional way of life: instead, a traditional way of life is forced on them. Life, he said, has basically been frozen since 1967, the world has moved on without us.