Israeli military demolishes West Bank dairy factory benefitting orphans despite court appeal

When 10-year-old Zahur Said and her friends were on their way to school last Monday, September 1st, Israeli authorities had already been surveying the area for hours. When she returned,….

When 10-year-old Zahur Said and her friends were on their way to school last Monday, September 1st, Israeli authorities had already been surveying the area for hours. When she returned, 300 square meters of crumbled concrete and mangled steel was all that remained of the Al Rayyan Dairy Factory in Northern Hebron.

For three years, the factory built in partnership by the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron (ICS) and Al Rayyan Company has provided a sustainable source of revenue for two orphanages run by the ICS, as well as aiding ten different schools in the area. It also supplied products like yogurt, milk and cheese to the organizations and families it benefits.

The factory received demolition orders two months ago on June 20th during the Israeli military’s Operation Brother’s Keeper. Israeli authorities confiscated most of its working machinery two weeks later on July 2nd. The ICS filed a case with the Israeli military court in the West Bank and had a court date scheduled for September 7th, 2014. Six days before the case was to be heard, the factory was demolished, with ICS and Al Rayyan sustaining more than two million dollars in losses.

Israeli authorities arrived at the 1000 square foot compound in Hebron’s Ar-Rahma neighborhood around 4:30am and began to survey the area. Witnesses say at least 50 soldiers arrived with border police positioned on the road below.

Ataef Al Jabari, a worker present when soldiers came, was told to sit outside while they searched the area. At approximately 7am, bulldozers and trucks arrived and began to demolish the structure. In addition to the factory, Israeli authorities demolished a large well beside the factory, owned by a neighbor.

“More than 50 families are fed by this factory. I have four boys and my wife will give birth next month. Now I have no work,” said Ataef.

The factory was built in 2011 with the help of the Kuwait government. Its sole purpose was charity, providing work for graduated orphans, aiding neighboring schools and orphanages with the sum of its revenue, and buying ethically from local farmers who are often exploited by large companies.

In a statement published by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) on September 2nd regarding the incident, a spokesman said the following:

“Security forces carried out the demolition of an illegal building which was built without the necessary permits in the Hebron area. The building was demolished after the appropriate enforcement procedure was completed and a demolition order was delivered.”

When asked if the COGAT plans to compensate the financial losses sustained by the various schools and orphanages that the dairy factory funded, the spokesperson responded;

“The demolished building included a cowshed and a dairy production plant of 4,000 square meters, which were not in current use. The activity of this dairy production plant is related to terror organizations and serves part of the orphanages of the Islamic Charity Society which is also associated with terrorist activities.”

The COGAT did not respond to further questions requesting details of these allegations.

Hatim Al Bakri, the head of administration for the Islamic Charitable Society maintains that the ICS and Al-Rayyan Factory are legal organizations that abide by regulations stipulated by the Palestinian Authority.

With the appropriate permits obtained, the land owned by the ICS was first converted into a cow farm for local farmers in 1991, before the Oslo Accords and subsequent separation of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C.

After Oslo, the farm was classified as falling within Area C, land under full Israeli military and civil control. Despite owning the land, the ICS needed a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration to build. The vast majority of these building permits are denied and the ICS did not obtain one when they built the factory in 2011.

In response to allegations of being associated with ‘terrorist activities,’ Al Bakri asked, “Why didn’t they send a group to check our papers to see where we send our money and where we get funding? All the orphans now will receive less support because of this loss. It was the main source of funding for them.”

Assuming Israeli authorities were targeting Hamas, as the crackdown was widely publicized during Operation Brother’s Keeper, Mamoon Rashed, the head of administration for Al Rayyan Company and manager of the factory also commented, “There is no one here that is Hamas and if we support Hamas and get funding from them, why didn’t they arrest anyone from our administration or our workers?”

37-year-old Kamal Al Jabari had worked for Al-Rayyan for 5 years and arrived to the factory before it was destroyed.

“It’s nothing more than revenge. It’s like a nuclear bomb for us. They can do it Gaza and they can do it here,” said Kamal.

Kamal’s two sons helped salvage plastic crates scattered among the ruins. The faces of 6-year-old Mohye Al Deen and 4-year-old Abed Al Hady seemed to mirror their father’s dejection.

“Even if they demolish it, we are like seeds. We keep growing. We never die. The Israelis are better than us in the media. They can change this story. But this soil is mixed with our blood,” said Kamal.