In the past few months, we have witnessed an escalation in the level of violence exerted on Palestinian civilians. “The spirit of the commander” according to MK Ben Gvir and the escalating power of settlers as rulers, back up violent conduct that only grows worse. Such violence now also affects peace-seeking Israelis who express their solidarity with Palestinians.
We present four testimonies collected in November 2022 in conversations with our Palestinian friends. All we can do is document and share their stories and experiences. We identify a new order that threatens Palestinians as well as those of us who are peace activists.
*NOTE: All names have been changed for this article
Accelerating destruction in ‘firing zone 918’, Masafer Yatta and its periphery
Awad* in conversation with Rachel Afek
For over four decades, ever since the Israeli army declared in 1980 their living space a ‘firing zone’, the residents of 12 Palestinian villages situated inside Massafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills have been living under the threat of demolition, expulsion and expropriation.
In 1999, displacement orders were issued, claiming that they were not permanent residents in the area. This claim was made while totally ignoring their unique lifestyle and their ancient agricultural culture as well as historical documentation that shows generations of Palestinian habitation in these villages. In the past, they lived in caves and in later years in structures outside the caves as well.
Expulsion of the residents means the demolition of 12 historical villages and leaving entire families – over 1000 persons, including children and the elderly – homeless. Such displacement contradicts Israel’s responsibility towards the Palestinian population under its control, according to both International Law, and the Israeli law.
The villages under threat include:
Jinba, Al Markaz, Al Hilawa, Khalat-Dhaba, Al Fakhit, A-Taban, Al Majaz, A-Safai, Mughayar Al Abid, Al Mufaqara, A-Touba, Saroura.
Awad* is a local resident, well informed of the displacement from Masafer Yatta. He explains that the State’s plan is to move them into the town of Yatta in Area A. Firing zones were established after the 1967 war and the onset of the occupation, although there was no military presence in the area. Only this year, because the army is said to be there, a base was built and soldiers were brought and they try to say that there are military maneuvers there the whole time. Ever since the court ruled in May that the Palestinians in these villages might be expelled, a Palestinian group from the area is documenting the expulsion steps.
Masafer Yatta is an area in the South Hebron hills where 30,000 dunam, populated by (or which comprise) over 12 Palestinian villages, were declared Firing Zones 917 and 918. The Civil Administration and the army, who control 100% of the area (both in security and in civil matters), have been tightening their hold more and more. They refuse to approve masterplans and any kind of construction.
Demolitions are expanding and are taking place in the Masafer Yatta periphery. The army has been using the court ruling to demolish buildings in the surrounding area as well. In total - 5000 residents are in danger of expulsion and their homes demolished. The army is trying to create a new status quo everywhere: blocking roads, confiscating vehicles, checking people’s IDs, and demolishing homes.
In answer to our question about how expulsions and demolitions take place, Awad explains: a form is posted on the wall or under a stone of a home. Usually, it states that within 96 hours the house will no longer remain. In army jargon: “Instruction for removal of new structure, exercised 96 hours after instruction issued” … Signed: coordinator of inspection unit
The next day, the bulldozers arrive with its operators. Within minutes, nothing remains.
Schools in Massafer Yatta have also been destroyed with this accelerated process. The army, the Civil Administration, the court – everything is very efficient when it comes to this.
In November bulldozers came to the schoolhouse at A-Safai. A newly built school. A day earlier, after the instruction for demolishing a new structure was issued, many diplomats arrived to protest the demolition decree. That night, an attorney went to the court to ask for an injunction to prevent the demolition. The judge confirmed this. The supervision unit at the Civil Administration received notice. The next morning, as if they had not received the notice, the demolition equipment arrived and destroyed the place.
In the picture Below:
Demolition of the school in a-Safai village in Masafer Yata, 23.11.2022
(right to left) classroom, demolition order and diplomats, the community, handshaking, destruction
photos by a local residents
With the remarkable courage and resourcefulness of the local residents, a tent was built to replace the school. The area was cleared of debris and the children came to continue their day's work. Within two days, the occupation forces came again and confiscated the tent. We received photos of the children sitting on makeshift seats, their schoolbags next to them, under the open sky, their teacher sitting on a brick teaching a lesson. Life goes on.
In the past, one could breathe between decisions. Now it all happens very fast. Another school in the area received notice of a demolition order. The court has issued a freezing order until proceedings are held, and there will be no demolition in the near future.
Awad is in favor of a one state solution to the conflict. He says that one state already exists but not for everyone. The status quo is lived. We cannot change anything. The people get weak. Palestinians are groaning under the weight of the occupation. Awad is deeply disappointed with the Palestinian Authority for its helplessness. “The feeling of humiliation and discrimination is the worst. Like a cloud hanging over us.”
Awad hopes that we continue “To remind everyone all the time, everywhere, that there is a school with children in it and it is threatened by demolition". He would like all of us to talk more about the situation here.
Escalation in the violence that Palestinians have been experiencing in the old city of Hebron
Amira Itiyel in conversation with Rashid*
We know Rashid from our Beach Days project. He helps us organize groups arriving from Hebron to the beach in the summer. He tells us that on the Sabbath when the Torah portion focuses on the Life of Sarah, Jewish settlers from all over held their yearly march in the city and exerted massive violence in the city streets.
The Palestinian residents were asked by the patrol commander to remain inside their homes on Saturday, November 19, 2022, from 10 am until 4:30 pm. The army shut down shops in the market all day in a vast area, to enable 32,000 settlers to march. Riots ensued in which settlers attacked Palestinian homes, especially in Shalala Street, the Policeman’s Roundabout and later at Tel Rumeida itself, injuring people and damaging property. Ten people, including children, were wounded, four were hospitalized. This event was especially severe.
Rashid adds that usually tension rises every few days, after which things quiet down and people are allowed through the checkpoints. He says that the city is surrounded by cameras and the authorities know everything about every single resident.
This up-and-down situation has been in place ever since 1967. It escalated especially since 2000, when the Shuhada Street Market was closed. Indeed, “The Israeli army is working hard night and day to assure Israeli security” Rashid adds cynically describing reality. There are plenty of soldiers in Hebron, more than ever. “They have brought battalions.
On the other hand permits to enter Israel for work are issued more easily now. In the past, permits were issued only for farming and construction. Now there are permits for work in restaurants and hotels. Single young people work in the settlements. This prevents terrorist attacks and brings calm.”
When asked about Ben Gvir, who is a neighbor from Kiryat Arba (nearby settlement). Rashid laughs and says in his excellent Hebrew: “Better a close neighbor than a distant brother…” He shares videos of Ben Gvir as a violent young man. “How does a criminal become a Knesset Member and cabinet minister?” he asks. “He belongs in jail!” “Of course everyone is afraid of him: Palestinians, Israelis and Americans,” he concludes.
As a youth, Rashid worked in Israel for many years, mostly in restaurants. That is where he learned Hebrew, and where he met Israelis. Since then he listens avidly to Israeli radio and television channels. “Our lives on earth are temporary. One needs to know how to live. For the next 40 years every way should be sought, to find peace, calm and quiet.”
Rashid supports the idea of one state for two peoples, controlled by Israel. He claims that many of his friends would prefer a blue (Israeli) ID to a Palestinian one. As citizens of Israel we would have better living conditions. Proof: the 1948 Palestinian citizens of Israel. In the beginning, there was a military government and one day it was removed. And now they live together.
Rashid loathes the Palestinian Authority. He says that Abu Mazen no longer functions independently but is led by three ministers under him who keep whining – “We are suffering from the occupation!” but do not want a solution. They receive millions in donations and it all goes to them and their families. They do not demonstrate, they ride their fancy cars and do not care about the people".
The harrasments of activists, a week after the riots of 19.11.22
Bashir* in conversation with Rachel Afek
On Saturday of the reading of the Torah portion “The Life of Sarah” riots, Bashir was photographing the goings-on in the neighborhood, soldiers threw a stun grenade at him and five soldiers attacked him, beat him up and threw him to the ground. Young men who were there saw what happened and tried to help him. The army and settlers attacked and beat them up too. Six wounded Palestinians were transferred to the Palestinian ambulance that came to take them to the hospital. Then the army arrested Bashir’s son and cousin who were in the street, crammed them into the jeep and on the way to the settlement, beat them up.
After negotiations that lasted well over an hour, the army decided to release them. A Palestinian ambulance took them to the hospital. That night they were sent home.
The village of Burin is located on the southern slope of Mount Grizim, near the city of Nablus. It dates back to the Bronze Age. Burin is “A large village south of Nablus, surrounded by olive groves.” When a villager speaks about an olive tree from Roman times, he means a tree from Roman times…
Following the Six Day War in 1967, the West Bank went over from Jordanian to Israeli rule. The village lands have been expropriated several times to establish Israeli settlements and army bases. Consequently, land and water resources have dwindled. Since 1982, over 2000 dunams have been declared state land and were later passed on to the Har Beracha settlement.
In good times, the village population was very large. A friend told us that the village has a “family tree” in which every person born is registered, and now contains tens of thousands all over the world.
Since the settlements of Yitzhar and Beracha in the south and north were built (in 1983), Burin villagers have suffered ongoing water shortages, land grab and settler violence, especially during the olive harvest season. Masked settlers enter the village, throw stones, cut down trees, and uproot saplings. The villagers are hurt body and soul. The army that is supposed to protect them collaborates with the thugs or stands by. Usually, it fires teargas and stun grenades at Burin villagers.
The olive grove owners ask Israeli and international volunteers to help them harvest and reach the lands closest to settlements. But Israeli activists who come to guard and help during harvest time are often sent back by the army or are warned ahead of time that strangers are not allowed in the area during the harvest. The army sets limited days for the villagers and only then are they allowed to harvest the fruit. The number of days coordinated with the army is far from adequate for the farmers.
Umm Yusuf*, (Mother of Yusuf), is a woman we cherish and accompany for years. She is proud to be a farmer who was born in the village. We enjoy coming to help her in the olive harvest, which is a time for family feasts. The day we were there this year, the army notified us that it would not allow the bus to enter the village. Therefore, we came in our private cars and harvested a large crop of olives.
Umm Yusuf told us that this year, on one of the harvest days in a grove close to Giv’at Ronen (an offshoot of Har Beracha), a large group of about 50 settler children, women and men came into her grove. The army removed her. The next day she returned and found 11 ancient olive trees cut down. This is an example of the general state of things.
Murad*, an experienced peace activist, told us that the situation in the harvest was worse this year. The army permitted Palestinians only 2 days of olive harvest instead of the 4-5 days necessary to finish the work. There is a whole section of fruit that they did not manage to pick. The army literally prevented Israelis from coming to help and offer some protection. Whereas in the past the settlers would throw stones from afar – this year they entered the groves and attacked with sticks, metal rods, stones, anything – they were not afraid. The army always chases the Palestinian farmers away.
*All names have been changed