It’s all about land

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by the South Hebron Hills Team

We recently went on an excursion into the countryside with Nasser Nawaja a local contact and resident of Susiya. Nasser is a field researcher in the South Hebron Hills for B’Tselem an Israeli-Palestinian human rights organisation. Through his work he knows the fragmented pastures around Yatta like the back of his hand. While touring with Nasser he pointed out a number of restricted “security zones” around the settlements and explained how the grazing land is divided up between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. The first thought that struck me, while he spoke, was that there really should be no “division” as such, nor any dispute over who goes where; the UN has after all officially recognized Palestine as a country.

Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore

Hilltop showing patches of land which have different access rules for Palestinians and Israelis. South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/ P. Moore 2015

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 lands have been expropriated from their Palestinian owners under a variety of pretexts in order to allow the building of settlements. There are approximately 150 settlements in occupied Palestine. Significantly these settlements have large ‘buffer zones’ around them which Palestinians are denied access to.

“The fenced or patrolled areas of settlements cover three percent of the West Bank; in total 43% of the West Bank is allocated to settlement local and regional councils.” UNOCHA 2012

Compulsory purchase orders have been enacted which have taken advantage of legal frameworks dating from the times of the Ottoman Empire.  According to Ottoman law all land belongs to the State unless someone can specifically prove ownership in writing; further clauses have allowed the confiscation of land that has not been used or cultivated for three years. These laws tend to work against Palestinians living on the “seam zones and security areas”, where they are often denied permission to cultivate the land. Additionally when a dispute arises over the ownership of a particular tract of land, any use of the land is prohibited. This results in further loss of land and livelihoods for local herding communities.

“You see that brown patch of land down there in the valley?” said Nasser, pointing into the distance. “That and the green corridors extending away from it in both directions is an area closed to everyone. The same goes for the lush grassy area heading up from one of the corridors towards the outpost on the hill. On the other hand… the stretch of land from the look-out post down towards the road is off-limits to the settlers.” Nasser 2015

While Nasser spoke I tried in ernest to take the new information on board and to discern the logic of it all, if only so that I might remember the status quo in different strips of land on different hilltops. In the end I gave up realising it was a fruitless task and concluded “there was no logic”.

Nasser Nawaja and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Nasser and EAs talking with soldiers in patrol car. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Soon after a patrol car appeared behind us and some Israeli soldiers beckoned us over. By coincidence, at that precise moment Nasser spotted a few goats belonging to the nearby settlement, grazing in an area that was off-limits to all parties. He pointed them out to the soldiers and asked why the goats were not being driven away from the prohibited area like Palestinian shepherds often were. The soldiers had no answer to this and they got back into their personnel carrier and drove away.

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore

Nasser Nawaja discussing the land use in Yatta area with an ISF- soldier. South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore

I burst out laughing but then I felt ashamed. The situations one encounters in this bizarre patchwork quilt of hills and valleys would be comical – if it were not so tragic for so many. Each and every ‘re-zoned’ strip of dirt is somebody’s lost land.

Here we go on frequent visits to vulnerable communities living in Area C to give our support to families whose homes have been bulldozed or who are awaiting demolition. Many have received demolition orders because their homes have been deemed too close to either an Israeli settlement, a military firing range or an archaeological site. Access to land in area Area C, where the Israeli government has full control, is severely restricted. In fact, less than 1% of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development and construction is heavily restricted in 29% of Area C. UNOCHA 2013

Just a few days ago, our team rolled up our sleeves and joined the locals who were working to clear the demolition rubble away from the foundations of a house that had been leveled. The Israeli military carried out the demolition of a dozen homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Khair in October 2014. Umm al-Khair is bordered by the Israeli settlement of Karmel.

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs help carry rubble from site of demolished house in Land Action in Um al Khair, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

This particular family does not intend to leave and share their hopes and plans for rebuilding. They tell us that they will not build on the site where their previous home stood since the early 1960s, but right next to it. Many victims of demolition do this in the hope that the time it takes for a new building application to go through the courts will buy them some time in their new home. The temporary emergency shelters which the families now live in have been funded by both the European Union and the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and although this international support is greatly appreciated the residents say that they expect that these shelters will also be demolished before long. This is rural life in Area C in Palestine.

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

EAs and local residents clearing demolition rubble in Um al Kher South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Al Mukhtasem Hathaleen carrying rubble from site of demolished house at Land Action in Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P Moore 2015

Approximately 99% of all Palestinian planning permission applications are rejected. Significantly, while old Palestinian houses are being demolished on regular basis, settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law, are being expanded at a steadily increasing pace. In some cases entire villages are under threat of demolition. The one that is probably closest to the heart of us EAs in the South Hebron Hills is the small community of Susiya, which has recently been featured in the pages of Israeli and Palestinian and international newspapers.

Susiya: a community at the heart of the struggle

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susema and Odei sheparding on Susiya fields, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Some 550 people live in the village of Susiya. Their main source of income comes from farming and animal husbandry. From the outside, the village might look like a ramshackle tangle of tents and shacks, but it has a soul and a school and a whole lot of children. Village community life flourishes.

The village of Susiya was here at its original location from the early decades of the 19th century. In 1986, the Israeli Civil Administration declared the village land was an archaeological site and the residents were expelled and the land was confiscated. Since then the village’s history has been one long chapter of nonviolent struggles against demolition orders. Just some weeks ago, the Civil Administration announced it had quashed the last legal obstacles to the complete destruction of the village. “Complete” in this case would not just include their makeshift homes but livestock barns, water tanks, solar panels – everything in the village.

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills  Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

The Village of Susiya, South Hebron Hills Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Susya forever, South Hebron Hills, Photo EAPPI/P. Moore 2015

Things are rather different at the neighbouring Susiya settlement, built on village land from 1983 onwards. Life in the Israeli settlement carries on without any threats of the demolition.  The story of Susiya is one of many in the South Hebron Hills region, where too many people live from day to day never knowing when the next expulsion will come.

 

Take action box 2

 

Sign and spread the Avaaz Petition started by Susiya resident Nasser Nawajeh, Save My Village!

 

 

 

The Settler’s Tour in Hebron

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by the Hebron Team

Hebron is a contested city. The settlements are located in the middle of the city’s center and there are few other places were Palestinians and settlers are living so close to each other. Because of the proximity, tensions frequently arise between the two sides.

Hebron, therefore, is often said to represent a microcosm of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Photo EAPPI/ M. Guntern Settlers entering into the old city.  06.04.2015

Settlers entering into the old city, Hebron. Photo EAPPI/ M. Guntern 06.04.2015

The city is divided into one Israeli and one Palestinian zone. Normally the Old City is off limits for the settlers, but every Saturday afternoon a group of settlers and supporting tourists go on a “tour” around the Old City.

The group is accompanied by some 30-40 soldiers, including a troop of snipers that go ahead to secure the area. In some cases this means entering Palestinian homes. For approximately one hour the group makes its way through the Old City of Hebron protected by heavily armed soldiers. Some of the settlers participating in the tour are also armed.

Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern  Soldiers protecting the settlers during the tour.06.04.2015

Soldiers protecting the settlers during the tour, Hebron. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

The tour guide is one of the ideological hardliners from the settlement community in Hebron. He presents the settlers’ narrative of the history of the Jewish community in the city. However, from what EAs have observed the audience rarely pays attention to what is being said. Instead they tend to hang out and chat with each other, the soldiers, or they concentrate on their phones. The Settler’s Tour has become a renowned attraction in Hebron. Also regular tourists come to Hebron to watch this spectacle of settlers, soldiers and members of international organisations.

Internationals and tourists waiting for the tour. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

Internationals and tourists waiting for the tour. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

The Palestinians living and working in the Old City regards the settlers tour as way of “showing who’s in power” and to “intimidate the population”. EAPPI, is always present during the tours to provide protective presence to the inhabitants of the Old City.

We, as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), do our best to ensure that Palestinians do not face restrictions on their freedom of movement and that they are allowed to pass the group of settlers and soldiers without problems.

Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern  EA monitoring the tour. 06.04.2015

EA monitoring the Settler’s tour Hebron. Photo EAPPI/M. Guntern 06.04.2015

However, the tour is affecting the locals’ ability and willingness to move around the Old City. On one occasion we met two women with their daughters, who said they were too afraid to walk past the tour and decided to wait until it had passed.

In addition to affecting the number of customers in the Old City, the Settler’s Tour has further consequences for local commerce and trade. A shopkeeper in the Old City says about the tour:

“Sometimes the settlers break my things and throw my products on the ground and trample on them, other times the settlers buy things, you never know with these groups”

Nevertheless, the shopkeepers in the Old City staunchly open their shops and refuse to let the “tour” control their opening hours.

Jordan Valley – the hidden occupation. Part 2.

EAPPI:

Read the latest report from the Jordan Valley about how access to water severely restricted for Palestinians living under occupation.

Originally posted on EAPPI UK and Ireland blog:

“There is no country on this planet where it is forbidden to drink water, except Palestine.”

– Resident of Khirbet Artuf.

A Makarot water silo in the Jordan Valley. Credit: EAPPI/P Hughes A Makarot water silo in the Jordan Valley. Credit: EAPPI/P Hughes

According to local NGO Maan, the average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 70 litres per person, well below the 100 litres recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover domestic and public service needs.

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A success story: against all the odds

by the Jordan Valley team

Nai’me shows us the water pool her family has built with the aid from a local organisation. She explains to us how this pool has enabled her family to harvest rainwater and use it to irrigate their farms. She smiles shyly and adds:

“Our produce has increased so much that we now can afford to send our eldest daughter to university in Jericho”  Nai’me 2015

Nai'mes agricultural water pool, Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/M. Stacke

Nai’mes agricultural water pool, Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/M. Stacke

Nai’me and her family live in a small village north of Jericho, situated in Area C. In Area C, Israeli authorities control everything pertaining to building and development. If you want to build a house, drill a well or pave a road, you need a permit; something that Nai’me and her family do not have. In fact, they did not even try to ask for one, since Israeli authorities are not in the habit of granting permits to Palestinians. Nai’me and her family decided to build anyway as a way of resisting the occupation.

Between 2000 and 2007, 94% of all Palestinian applications for building permits were denied, according to UN OCHA.

EAs Peter and Pia overlooking the Palestinian village of Marj e-Ghazal in the Jordan Valley.Photo EAPPI/M. Stacke

EAs Peter and Pia visit Palestinian villages in Area C Jordan Valley Photo EAPPI/M. Stacke

In the Jordan Valley Israel’s military occupation is characterised by bureaucratic and physical restrictions for Palestinians. Nai’me and her family are not the only ones whose buildings are deemed illegal. While she and her family lack permission from the Israeli authorities, the Israeli settlements are expanding, in violation of International Humanitarian Law.

Settlements are heavily subsidised by the Israeli authorities and land is allocated to them through a complex and overlapping system of zoning.

Argaman settlement, established in 1968 in the Jordan Valley. Photo EAPPI/M. Stacke

Argaman settlement, established in 1968 in the Jordan Valley. Photo EAPPI/M. Stacke

The zoning of the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B and C determine which authority, Palestinian or Israeli, is responsible for the inhabitants. Area C is divided into several sub-categories which have severely hindered the natural growth and development of Palestinian towns and cities. In the Jordan Valley for example the Israeli authorities have re-zoned most of the land as either state land, closed firing zones or nature reserve.

Significantly, while only 6% of the Jordan Valley is available for Palestinian development a total of 86 % falls under the jurisdiction of the municipal and regional councils of the settlements. This facilitates the development of settlements well beyond the 12 % of land they cultivate today.

A success story: against all odds? Nai’me knows they run the risk of having their water pool demolished by Israeli authorities. If this happens, her husband might have to go back to working in the settlement farm bordering their village. But Nai’me hopes that they will get to keep their water pool for a couple of years and that her eldest daughter will have time to finish her degree.

Read more eye witness accounts from the Jordan Valley; Area Cdemolitions, water 

Learn more about this issues from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions  ICHAD 

 

 

 

 

 

Forcible removal: the confiscation of solar panels from a Bedouin community (by EA Sandra)

Originally posted on EAPPI UK and Ireland blog:

The treatment of Bedouin communities is one of the ‘big issues’ for our work. You can read some key facts about this issue from UNOHCA (the UN agency coordinating humanitarian efforts in occupied Palestine) at the end of this blog.

At around 4pm on April 1, the Jerusalem team received an alert that the Israeli Civil Authority was planning to remove 11 solar panels from the Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar.

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PHOTO ESSAY: Two faces of the Hebron’s urban planning

by Diana, Hebron team

Hebron’s appearance is slowly changing… while carrying out are usual EAPPI tasks, we can observe both – the Israeli settler’s and the Palestinian resident’s efforts to transform the city.

Israeli settler efforts are concentrated mainly on Shuhada Street and Tel Rumeida hill. They tend to highlight the ancient Jewish heritage in Hebron. That’s why they paint graffiti on the door of closed palestinian shops, they arrange gardens in place of streets formerly leading to the old city market, they put informative signs and mark tourist paths. Recently, they also renamed the streets in the area of settlements in the old city. On the top of Tel Rumeida hill the ongoing archaeological excavations will create a Biblical Park explaining the Jewish history of the site and the city.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) focuses its efforts on the Old City of Hebron. They rebuild houses demolished by Israeli forces, restore the former look of historical sites of the old city, and make better everyday life of its inhabitants, many of whom have moved out of the Old City after its closure. Lastly, HRC also strongly promotes tourism and other sectors of Hebron’s economy.

*Read more about the Archeological Excavations in Hebron.

*Check out our Three-part series about Shuhada Street.