On Saturday 15.11.14 the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee (a nonviolent Palestinian organisation resisting occupation in the South Hebron Hills region), coordinated an action to develop the road which connects Yatta to At-Tuwani and surrounding villages located in the ‘Firing Zone 918’. Under the watchful eyes of the Israeli military and police, the action was attended by members of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee, residents of At-Tuwani, Israeli peace activists from ‘Ta’ayush’, and internationals from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and EAPPI.
This unpaved road that runs between villages and the town of Yatta is the access route that Palestinians travel for employment, education, water, healthcare and other basic necessities of life. Surrounded by the tarmacked roads developed by the Israeli state for the settlers living illegally in the area, the rubble and holes in the Palestinian roads are tangible manifestations of the stark inequalities of power which characterise the Israeli occupation, and the specific context of the South Hebron Hills and the Firing Zone 918.
The ‘Firing Zone 918’, in which 8 villages are under threat of eviction, is a microcosm of the war of attrition the Israeli state is waging against Palestinians. Located in ‘Area C’ (under full Israeli control), the fear of forced eviction, constant settler violence and military harassment plague the life of over a thousand Palestinians. The majority of these Palestinians earn their living through farming and herding. The grinding realities of life under occupation, such as a near-total ban on construction as well as myriad restrictions on movement, render ‘living off the land’ a constant struggle.
This Saturday, as construction with tractors and other machines is banned in the area without rarely-given Israeli permits, busy hands set about with buckets and hoes attempting to remove rubble and stones and fill in the many potholes on the road.
A member of the South Hebron Hills Popular committee from At-Tuwani explained that:
“This road serves all the people from Yatta and around… This is a very bad road – the school bus can’t and when people need to bring something by tractor, it is very difficult. This road is also not good if you need to use an ambulance to take people to the hospital. Ten years ago it was an asphalt road, but at the start of the Al Aqsa intifada (in 2002), Israel demolished the road.”
He also said that, “we need to build a channel for rain water…Last year with the snow, all this is closed with water…You need a machine to fix this road but the DCO asks us for a permit, but will not give one to us to use a machine to work here….Now every week we try to fix it with small things, with our hands, before the rain comes.”
The racial politics of occupation are clear in his statement that “if a Palestinian comes alone to work here, the army and the police would arrest him quickly and stop him working, but it helps having international people and cameras to film everything.”
The action was an act of nonviolent resistance to the control Israel asserts over the lives of Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills. Despite the slow progress being made with hands, buckets and hoes, six Israeli police and military jeeps arrived. Palestinians were told that the work cannot be carried out without a permit, and a soldier declared such work a supposed ‘health and safety’ hazard.
The irony of such a statement is clear given the ‘health and safety’ hazards of the current state of the road and its implications, not to mention the myriad physical and psychological effects of occupation. Legal issues surrounding the firing zone and the South Hebron Hills are complex, with numerous bureaucratic intricacies through which it is nigh impossible for Palestinians to gain a permit for construction. Members of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee asserted the unlikelihood of gaining such a permit ‘requested’ by the military, and managed to converse with soldiers until the action ended at the time initially planned by the committee.
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