Harriet Sherwood’s article is followed by two posts from the Al-Mufaqara Right to Exist campaign.
David Grossman, Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua are among 24 writers calling for reprieve for villages in South Hebron hills. Photo by Getty images.
By Harriet Sherwood in Mufaqara,guardian.co.uk,
June 25, 2013
Some of the most celebrated figures in Israeli literature are campaigning to stop the forcible eviction of Palestinian communities in the barren hills of the southern West Bank to clear land for an Israeli military firing zone.
Twenty four authors – including the acclaimed triumvirate of David Grossman, Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua – have put their names to an appeal to save the villages of the South Hebron hills.
The population of around 1,000 lives “in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthless power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabited for centuries”, according to the letter, which was written by Grossman.
It went on: “In a reality of ongoing occupation, of solid cynicism and meanness, each and every one of us bears the moral obligation to try and relieve the suffering, do something to bend back the occupation’s giant, cruel hand.”
The villagers, many of whose parents and grandparents lived in caves and who still eke a traditional existence herding sheep and goats on the windswept rocky hills, were issued with evacuation orders by the Israeli military in 1999. They have been fighting the orders through the Israeli courts ever since, with a new hearing scheduled in the supreme court in three weeks.
The area – around 3 sq km – was designated as “Firing Zone 918” in the 1970s. About 18% of the West Bank has been designated military training zones by Israel.
According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, international laws of occupation forbid the transfer of populations unless it is temporary or for immediate military needs, such as the prosecution of war.
Since the evacuation orders were issued, four of the 12 villages have been reprieved, leaving eight earmarked for demolition. The villagers say their presence in the area dates back up to 350 years, and many have land ownership documents dating from the Ottoman era.
“I have three huge files of documents of land ownership in this area,” said the Israeli lawyer Shlomo Lecker, who represents some of the villagers. “It is not disputed that this is privately owned land.”
He claimed the threatened evacuation was part of a wider process of Israel clearing Palestinians from land in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank under total Israeli control and where its settlements are located.
Mahmoud Hamamdeh, the chief of Mufaqara village, said he, his father and his grandfather were born in the area. “Despite the fact we lived in caves, we had dignity and honour,” he said, before the “cancer of settlements” took hold in the 1980s. “That was when the real struggle began.” His house, along with the village mosque, was demolished in November 2011.
Israeli settlements and outposts hug the north and west of Firing Zone 918, and its south is bordered by the pre-1967 green line and the separation barrier. Violent attacks by hardline settlers on Palestinians and their property are common; the Israeli army escorts children from Mufaqara and other villages to and from school outside the military zone each day to protect them from attack.
Three of the signatories on the authors’ petition visited Mufaqara on Tuesday to meet villagers. Zeruya Shalev said Israel was “a country of which I am ashamed” and the people of Mufaqara were “not a threat to the state of Israel”.
Eyal Megged said literature served a purpose in awakening readers’ interest in what was happening around them. “Here, it’s not just about politics, but it’s a moral and a human issue. This is the stuff that literature is concerned with, it deals with the human condition.”
The Israeli ministry of defence told the supreme court last year that the topographical character of the area made it highly suitable for military training. It said permanent residence should be prohibited but villagers could be allowed to work their land or graze their flocks at weekends, Jewish holidays and two periods of one month each year. It also said many buildings and structures in the area had been constructed without permission.
From Al Mufaqarah, Call for Actions
June 24, 2013
The Popular Struggle Committee and the communities of Masafer Yatta invite you to the 6th Annual Festival of Non-Violence Resistance to celebrate the perseverance and courageous spirit of the inhabitants of the Firing Zone 918.
The festival will include:
– Speeches by the leaders of the local communities;
– Dabke dancing (a traditional Palestinian dance) performed by a troupe from At-Tuwani;
– Concert of traditional Palestinian music;
– Clowns’ entertainment;
– Skits performed by the children who attended previous summer camps;
The festival aim to raise awareness and stressed the rights of the communities of the Masafer Yatta district, and specifically of the Firing Zone 918, to remain on their land.
The Firing Zone 918 (7.500 acre) was proclaimed during the ’70, but any enforcement action had been taken since the end of ’90. Twelve communities live in caves and tents, without electricity and running water, in a constant situation of uncertainty. Authorizations to build are systematically denied and most of the structures of the villages have pendent demolition orders, despite the existence of official documents proving the inhabitants property of the land.
We invite you to participate in the event, as well as to spread the word.
Transportation from Ramallah and from Hebron is available. Space is limited and advance registration is essential.
Please email: email@example.com by noon on Friday 28th June.
Media release from Al Mufaqarah R-Exist
Over 40% of the West Bank is under Israeli occupation: settlements and their subsidiary infrastructures such as settler passby roads, the Apartheid Wall, checkpoints and military bases have led to the expropriation of thousands of dunums of Palestinian land, chocking the Palestinians in dire conditions. In 2005, while Israel evacuated its 8,200 settlers from the Gaza Strip, its settler population in the West Bank increased by some 12,000. And the problem of impunity enjoyed by extremist settlers, often benefiting from the leniency of the police and the Israeli army, is recurring.
Al Mufaqara is one of a dozen communities situated in South Hebron Hills, in a so proclaimed firing zone area adjacent to the Green Line. Its residents, gathered in around 16 family units, are permanently living in caves and shacks, farming and grazing, as their ancestors did. Surrounded by 4 settlements – Karmel and Ma’on at north; Suseya and Mezadot Yehuda on the west side –, the 7.500 acre firing zone was proclaimed during the ’70, but any enforcement action had been taken since the end of ’90.
On 5 October 1999, just a week after a first dismantlement of the already reconstituted illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on, the residents of all the communities in the closed area except al Mufaqara received an evacuation order. Al- Mufaqara inhabitants were warned only on the 15th of November, just 24 hours before Israeli soldiers arrived. The next day the Israeli army destroyed the tents, sealed the caves, dispersed the flocks and evacuated the residents to the other side of road 317. Some of them took refuge in tents in the village of al-Tuwani. The cave dwellers appealed to the High Court that six months later allowed them to go back since the decision on the area final status.
Six years ago, Israeli authorities built an 80 cm wall along road 317, de facto cutting any connection between the village of al- Tuwani, the people living in the closed area and the vital city of Yatta. A petition was filed in the High Court of justice, which ruled the dismantlement of the wall.
The forced displacement of people and the construction of the wall testify Israeli attempts to empty and isolate the region from the rest of the area in order to annex it. Residents are also exposed to settlers’ attacks, which began systematic after the foundation of Havat Ma’on.
Nowadays, the community of al Mufaqara is still facing several problems. People live in caves and tents, without electricity and running water, in a constant situation of uncertainty. Authorizations to build are systematically denied and most of the structures of the villages have pendent demolition orders, despite the existence of official documents proving the inhabitants property of the land.
On 24th November 2011, Israeli army demolished the mosque, two houses, a cattle shed, the generator building and arrested two girls. The next day men from all the area came to pray in the village and started working at the rebuilding of the mosque, showing great solidarity and their strong willing to preserve their land. After this episode ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) with funds being available from the Humanitarian Relief Fund (HRF), managed by UN OCHA, and delivered three mobile houses, which don’t constitute a housing solution in keeping with the traditions of the inhabitants. Also, all these houses have recently received a stop-working order expiring on the 29th of May.