The Israeli military’s designating an area a “Firing Zone” for military maneuvers is one of its methods of legalizing ethnic cleansing. This policy is happening today in the South Hebron Hills. They have declared Firing Zone 918, and eight Palestinian villages—encompassing a population of 932 people, including 452 children—have been served eviction orders. The inhabitants are farmers and shepherds with 12,500 head of goats and sheep.
Israeli human rights organizations have appealed the evictions in Israeli courts. In the meantime, Israeli authorities refuse permits for any improvements to their villages. The village residents have no electricity, water, sewage or road services. Forced to proceed without building permits, they have received many demolition orders issued against solar panels, new cisterns and buildings—and three schools. Schools stabilize families in the area, because they no longer need to send their children to the city of Yatta for school, which is where the Israeli government wants them to move.
CPT received a call to attend a Saturday, 7 December, meeting of the South Hebron Hills Popular Resistance Committee in the village of At-Tuwani. The local leader of the committee, and other Palestinian villagers welcomed four groups of Internationals: Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), Operation Dove (OD), Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). He reviewed the situation of the eviction orders and spoke of four nonviolent strategies of resistance: legal appeals to Israeli courts against the unjust evictions; the presence of Internationals in the Firing Zone with a special focus on accompanying the schools; a weekly Saturday nonviolent demonstration; and most importantly the villagers staying on the land—resistance by existence! The International groups worked out a weekly schedule to maintain a presence in the afflicted area.
On Sunday, 8 December, two Doves, two CPTers and two ISMers made an orientation and relationship-building journey on foot through the zone visiting several villages. The headmaster in Al-Fahkeit told of starting the school with tents in 2009 and then building the existing school without permits. The Israeli army immediately issued a demolition order which is still being fought in the courts. Now they are building three new classrooms. Because of the frequent military harassment, the villagers would really appreciate an international presence day and night. CPT has committed to providing a Wednesday/Thursday presence in the area.