Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Years of violent attacks and restrictions by the Israeli army and settlers have forced the roughly 200 residents of Ein Samiya village out of their homes in what rights groups call a “war crime”. Among the villagers are 78 children whose school was singled out for demolition by Israeli authorities.
The last families remaining in the village, which had shrunk by 30 percent under constant harassment, loaded their belongings onto trucks on Wednesday, 44 years after they first settled there.
“These families are not leaving by choice,” said the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Yvonne Helle.
“The Israeli authorities have repeatedly demolished homes and other structures they own and have threatened to destroy their only school [while] land available for the grazing of livestock has decreased due to settlement expansion and both children and adults have been subjected to settler violence.”
“We were born and raised here, but they have made our lives unbearable,” 33-year-old Sumoud Ibrahim, who was displaced along with her husband and four children, told Al Jazeera.
Ein Samiya was built on private land owned by Palestinians living in the nearby village of Kafr Malek who allowed the migratory herders to settle there. The families had lived in the al-Auja area of the Jordan Valley before that, constantly moving.
In the 1990s, under the Oslo Accords, their village was classified as being in Area C – the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank controlled by the Israeli military, which severely restricts Palestinian construction and development in the area through demolitions, fines and other punishments.
They still rely on livestock and herding as their primary source of income and live in simple homes made of aluminium and tin due to these restrictions, many of which were built with funding from the European Union.
Now they have left their homes behind and have moved to open lands in the relatively nearby village of al-Mughayyir – which is attacked often by settlers – and the al-Nuwaimah area of the Jordan Valley.
The residents are worried that those areas are not much safer but feel that, regardless, it will still be better for them.
Area C is also where hundreds of Israeli settlements and outposts, considered illegal under international law, are. Over the past five years, settler attacks on Ein Samiya have included beatings, rock throwing and attacks on livestock and crops, and there have been more of them.
Two of Ibrahim’s relatives were attacked and beaten by settlers in recent years.
“They don’t care if it’s a child or a woman – the settlers beat us all. Last year, they broke the skull of my uncle’s wife, Haija,” said Ibrahim.
“They also beat my cousin – he had to get stitches. The police also arrested his sons, for no reason,” she continued. “The police protect the settlers, they don’t protect us.”
In a statement published on Tuesday, rights group B’Tselem said, “Israel’s policy, whose goal is to allow the state to take over more and more Palestinian land to be used by Jews, is applied across the West Bank against dozens of Palestinian communities. This policy is illegal. Forcible transfer is a war crime.”
“For years, residents of the community have suffered from violence carried out by Israeli forces, from settler violence carried out with the full backing of the state, and from extreme restrictions on building homes and infrastructure, as well as demolitions,” the statement continued, adding that the village school will also be demolished soon.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Palestinian Authority presidency spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said: “This is called ethnic cleansing, which forced the residents of Ein Samiya to leave, under the threat of the settlers and other restrictions.”
“This is terrorism and racism that requires international intervention and especially from the EU, which has helped support these communities. This forced displacement has succeeded, which means this constitutes a threat to the rest of the communities,” he said.
There are at least 46 villages and communities, home to more than 8,000 Palestinians, that are considered by the United Nations to be at “high risk of forcible transfer due to a ‘relocation’ plan advanced by the Israeli authorities” in Area C of the West Bank.
While at least 46 percent of Area C is private Palestinian land, Israel makes less than 1 percent of that accessible for Palestinian construction, and most of that is already built up.
When asked about the PA’s role, Melhem said: “The PA does not have the ability to prevent such crimes. It is a victim of these crimes, since the international community does not implement the agreed-upon decisions in dealing with Israel.”
“There are thousands of decisions that have condemned settlement construction, and condemned such crimes and the constant killings, but there are double standards that make the international community and their decisions more lenient in dealing with Israel,” continued Melhem.
He added that the PA’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission “has offered the Ein Samiya community … everything that can solidify their presence in any other area they go to, but our main goal is to pressure for their return to their lands, not to give up and go somewhere else”.
Mohammad Kaabneh, 70, had no option but to pack up and leave with his 11 family members, including his children and grandchildren. He was “worn out”, he told Al Jazeera, citing the constant pressure they had been living under.
“The settlers come every night. At midnight and 1am, they come and throw stones at our places. We go out to defend and push them back, so they run away and come back after half an hour. They start coming at us from all sides,” he continued.
“We’re going to be living out in the heat for at least a month before we can rebuild our homes,” he added, gesturing around him.
“I needed to find people standing with me, to at least feel that someone is supporting us. This land is extremely dear to me, but I was forced to do this.
“We want to live, and to raise our children safely,” he told Al Jazeera.