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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2000, Pages 20, 56

Report From Hebron

In the 60 Percent of the West Bank Under Full Israeli Occupation, Palestinian Evictions Continue

By Jane Adas

Thus far, the land-for-security provisions of the peace process have produced a situation in which no Israelis live in Area A, comprising major West Bank towns under nominal Palestinian control, or in Area B, under joint Israeli and Palestinian control. However, nearly 100,000 Palestinians live in the more than 60 percent of the West Bank classified as Area C, under full Israeli occupation and including most of the Jewish settlements. The Palestinian population is a complicating factor for Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s goal of “separation” (“afradeh” in Hebrew, “apartheid” in Afrikans).

What is happening today on the outskirts of Hebron suggests that Palestinians living in Area C are more insecure than ever as a result of the peace process. The evident intent of Israeli settlers, backed by Israeli military and ever-changing, murkily defined governmental policies, is to force Palestinians from their land to the crowded urban areas under Palestinian control.

Before dawn on Nov. 10, in the rugged hills of Yatta in the southern part of Hebron district, the Israeli army dismantled the rogue settlement of Havat Ma’on, in spite of resistance from the four resident families and settler sympathizers who had joined them. The operation received much coverage in the American media, but not the events that followed.

Palestinian farmers, who had been unable to work their fields due to settler harassment, believed they could now safely plant their winter wheat. However, when they went to their fields on Nov. 12, they encountered dozens of settlers who had hidden in caves. The settlers beat five of the farmers so severely they required hospitalization.

And what was the official Israeli reaction to this flaunting by the Jewish settlers of their public eviction by the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak? On Nov. 16, the Israeli army evicted 50 Palestinian families who live in the vicinity of Havat Ma’on. Since the Palestinian evacuees were unable to take all their belongings with them, the supposedly evicted Jewish settlers then looted and trashed what was left behind. The dispossessed Palestinian families have taken refuge in Palestinian villages scattered throughout the area, but their way of life has been destroyed.

There is a new Israeli army camp at the site where Havat Ma’on used to be. The area from which the Palestinian families were evicted is a new military firing range.

Many acres of Palestinian land have been appropriated to provide by-pass roads and a huge gas station for the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, situated just over the eastern boundary of the Hebron municipality, with more than 100,000 Palestinian residents. Now Kiryat Arba has apparently extended its territory to include the entire Beqa’a valley, an agricultural area that is home to approximately 80 Palestinian families.

Settlers have chosen the Palestinian home that lies farthest from Kiryat Arba as the target of recent demonstrations. They claim the house is built on Kiryat Arba land and demand that it be demolished.

Since Nov. 30, settlers have come several times a week, often at night with candles, and surrounded the house while singing, dancing, and praying. They have painted red Stars of David on rocks and planted grapevines in the adjacent field.

Israeli military police on the scene have done nothing to interfere with the settlers’ activities. But Israeli soldiers declared the house a closed military area and ordered members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who had been staying with the family to leave. The 15 occupants of the house live in terror of what might happen next.

Most of the families living in the path of Kiryat Arba’s ambitions have received multiple home demolition orders for building without permits, but never know which ones to take seriously. For example, several years ago Israeli military personnel told the Atta Jabber family to remove their possessions from their home immediately as their house was to be demolished.

They did so, only to be told that their house would be demolished another day. That day finally came on Aug. 19, 1998. Members of the Israeli Campaign Against Home Demolitions, the Palestinian Land Defense Committee, and the Christian Peacemaker Teams, with much media attention, promptly helped the family to rebuild a two-room structure.

The Israeli army demolished that on Sept. 11, beating Atta severely in the process. Atta, his wife and three young children remained on the site in a Red Cross tent until cold weather forced them to leave the valley and rent an apartment in Hebron.

The example of what happened to Atta has clearly intimidated other families in the area. Most of them seemed concerned not to draw attention to themselves lest it bring on the bulldozers.

The Israeli military exploits such wariness among the Palestinian residents of the area by threatening to demolish their homes if they do anything to change the “landmarks” in the area. One of Atta’s neighbors has not put an exterior door on his house, even now in the cold winter weather, because an Israeli officer told him it would mean immediate demolition. Other prohibited landmark-changing activities include planting, cultivating, and harvesting fields.

Another method of destroying the livelihood of Palestinian farmers in the Beqa’a valley is the denial of water. The Hebron municipality used to provide water to the area. That source was cut off in the 1980s by a road built to connect Kiryat Arba with the new Jewish settlement of Givat Ha Harsina, now considered a “neighborhood” of Kiryat Arba. Palestinians then bought their water from Mekorot, the Israeli water company. Now, in the second year of a regional drought, that supply, too, has been terminated.

Palestinian farmers, desperate to save their major source of income, have tapped into the water pipe that serves Kiryat Arba and its satellite settlements. Mekorot officials, accompanied by Israeli military police and armed settlers, come every day to the Beqa’a valley. Wherever they see thriving crops, they dig holes above the water pipe until they find a tap, which they cut and weld shut. When they find drip irrigation hoses, they slash them to pieces or confiscate them.

A military police captain explained that such taps are illegal, that Palestinian farmers are stealing water. He said that the water supply is divided between Kiryat Arba (population 6,000) and the Hebron municipality (population 130,000) exclusively for domestic, not agricultural, purposes.

There is apparently no problem, however, providing water for Kiryat Arba’s irrigated rose beds, grassy lawns, and swimming pools. Nor did the captain acknowledge that more than 80 percent of West Bank water is diverted to Israel proper and the settlements.

The Israeli policy of denying water to Palestinian farmers is not limited to controlling the water that flows through pipelines serving the settlements. Last May the Israeli military demolished several “illegal” cisterns that Palestinians built to contain rainwater. They also have filled farmers’ wells with sand and rubble, claiming that these wells, like cisterns to collect rainfall, are “illegal.”

With Israel now defining every aspect of their means of livelihood as illegal, the future looks grim for all of the Palestinian families in Yatta and the Beqa’a valley. Their security and that of all the other Palestinians living in the West Bank’s Area C has been sacrificed to “the peace process.”

Jane Adas, a free-lance writer based in New Jersey, was a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron from Nov. 2 to Dec. 14, 1999.