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The Folly of Israel’s Settlement Policy


July 5, 2012

AT-TUWANI, West Bank — In the ’80s and early ’90s, as a lawyer challenging orders claiming Palestinian land for use by Israeli settlers, I used to travel regularly from Ramallah to the southern city of Hebron to appear before Israeli military tribunals. On the way there I could see how politics were transforming the countryside: year after year, fields once cultivated with cucumbers and squash in the spring and grapevines in the summer were giving way to paved roads and sprawling settlements of concrete structures.

But that was nothing compared to what I discovered last month at At-Tuwani, a small Palestinian village just nine miles south of Hebron.

In 1999, having called the area around At-Tuwani a live firing zone, the Israeli military forcibly expelled some 700 Palestinians from a dozen impoverished farming villages nearby. Many took refuge in At-Tuwani. They remained there until March 2000, when an interim injunction from the Israeli High Court permitted them to return home pending a final ruling. (No final ruling has been issued to date.)

At that time, even some of At-Tuwani’s original inhabitants also left for the better-developed village of Yatta: At-Tuwani had no roads, no mosque and no school. It was Hafez Hereini, a thin man in his late 40s with a lined, sunburned face, who realized that unless he and others worked to develop At-Tuwani, the village would have no chance of surviving, much less of standing firm in the face of Israel’s efforts to empty the area from its Palestinian inhabitants.

Some Palestinians wage private battles against encroachment by Jewish settlements; Hereini’s struggle has been collective. Thanks to his efforts, some 350 Palestinians now live in At-Tuwani. First he convinced many of his fellow villagers who had left to return. Then he challenged the Israeli authorities by building essential amenities without waiting for the required permits.

"Everything we now have we had to struggle to get — whether water, electricity, roads, the mosque, the school," Hereini told me last month. Hereini convinced Tony Blair, who visited in 2009 as a representative of the Quartet, the group tasked with mediating peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to obtain formal permission from the Israeli authorities to bring electricity from Yatta to the village.

At-Tuwani now also has a school that serves Palestinian students from several nearby villages to the east.

On a walk up the hill from At-Tuwani, Hereini showed me a dirt road that runs between the flourishing settlement of Maon and, on a forested mound, the illegal outpost of Havat Maon. Children walk this way to school in At-Tuwani. "But the settlers would not allow them to pass in peace," Hereini told me. "They attacked them and prevented them from using the road."

And so Hereini recruited volunteers to escort the children. A group of foreigners supported by the Vatican agreed to help. But one day several years ago, the settlers attacked them anyway. While the children ran away, as children do, some of the volunteers were badly beaten. Their legs were broken, and they needed to be hospitalized. To avoid any more embarrassment in the future, the Israeli government decided foreigners would no longer accompany the children; the Israeli Army would.

What a strange situation, I thought, as Hereini explained this to me. Not only is this government illegally evicting a local people to benefit its own, but it is having to send its army to protect the children of those locals it considers noncitizens against settlers who are its citizens. Why do that rather than prevent attacks on Palestinian children in the first place?

Neither Hereini nor I nor any of the villagers anywhere in the West Bank is an Israeli citizen. You’d think that as such we shouldn’t need to concern ourselves with law and order in Israel. Except that we do: as long as Israel refuses to abide by the principle of international law that holds it responsible for our protection as inhabitants of the territories it occupies, our lives remain in peril.

Raja Shehadeh, a lawyer and writer living in Ramallah, is the author of "A Rift in Time: Travels with my Ottoman Uncle" and "Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape," which won the Orwell Prize in 2008. His new book, "Occupation Diaries," will be published in August.


:: Article nr. 89376 sent on 07-jul-2012 00:18 ECT


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