Friday, May 28, 2010

South Hebron Hills

Today, I toured the South Hebron Hills with a former Israeli soldier, Avichai, from an organization called Breaking the Silence, which aims to share what it is like to serve as a solider with the Israeli army. According to Avichai and Breaking the Silence, "The South Hebron Hills are situated far away form the inquiring eyes of Israeli society. They are almost completely ignored by the media and in public discourse. This large region and the many Palestinians who live there are forgotten in the conversations conducted about the future of the conflict. We, soldiers who served in the South Hebron Hills, have been witness to the consequences of this callous disregard. It's our duty to inform Israeli society about what happens in the Territories in its name, and hold a mirror that reflects the price of our presence in the Territories."

Much of the area of the South Hebron Hills has been confiscated illegally by the Israeli government and illegally by Israeli settlers to build the growing settlements of Carmel, Ma'on, and Otniel. Avichai told me about his training, which carried an overtone of treating all Palestinians as potential "terrorists", even if they had not committed any offense. He also said that his main job was to protect the settlers, even though they are living illegally on Palestinian land. Avichai introduced me to Yassir, a Palestinian resident of the village Susiya, who told the story of his village (consisting of tents and small caves) being destroyed by the settlers during the heat of July one year. The Red Crescent Society came and provided them with more tents, which were only large enough

for the children to stay in. But the Israeli civil administrators came and confiscated the tents saying they were illegal. When the villagers sought shelter in the shade of the olive trees, the military came and chopped down their olive trees. When they went to stay with the shepherds and their herd, the military came and blared their sirens so the herd would scatter in fear. I was moved to tears when he said, "We have only tents and caves - they are nothing - and they want to destroy it all." [See the photo of Yassir's home consisting of tents, with the Israeli settlement - red-roofed homes - in the distance behind it.] Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon.

We drove past the Palestinian town of Yatta, which has 40,000 inhabitants. Although agriculture used to be the village's mainstay, only a small fraction of its working population now works on the land. Yatta's land has been regularly confiscated from the town to build the settlements of Carmel, Ma'on, Otniel, and others. The majority of workers would daily cross the Green Line (5 kilometers away), often illegally, depending for their living on jobs in israeli industry and agriculture in the north of the Negev; these days the closures, checkpoints and absence of freedom of movement have hit this area badly.

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