Issue 258 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
Neve Gordon writes from South Hebron to illustrate the daily intrusions of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands and liberties
Last month, together with five Ta'ayush activists--the movement for Arab-Israeli partnership--I traveled to the South Hebron region to visit the Al-Nuagah family. The Israeli military and civil administration had evicted the Palestinian residents from their land a few months earlier in a well orchestrated campaign.
The expulsion was executed without forewarning, and the destruction was systematic in comparison to previous occasions. Living caves, which in the past had been sealed off, were totally demolished, while bulldozers also blocked many water wells and ruined crops. Livestock was killed and property left in a shambles, all this in order to dissuade the population from returning. The military even prevented the Red Cross from providing basic humanitarian aid like food, blankets and tents. Only following a Supreme Court injunction were the residents allowed to return.
The goal of our visit was to help the Al-Nuagah family measure their land, so that their lawyer, Shlomo Laker, will be able to provide accurate information when the Supreme Court reconvenes. To 'help' actually means to 'defend,' since the Jewish settlers and military have hampered previous attempts to accomplish this ostensibly simple objective.
Al-Nuagah's land borders the Jewish settlement Susya. Founded in 1982, the settlement consists of houses with lawns, a synagogue, playgrounds and a community centre. The Palestinian residents, whose land was expropriated in order to build the settlement, do not have electricity, running water, or a paved road leading to their desert homes.
In order to measure the land, one must walk alongside Al-Nuagah's uprooted fence with a measurement pole, while the land engineer calculates the distance from a hill located in the centre of the property. Together with Muhammad Al-Nuagah, the family's representative, three Ta'ayush members went towards the settlement, stopping every few metres with the pole so that the engineer could compute the distance.
About 100 metres from the settlement a soldier came towards us. 'What are you doing here without weapons?' he asked, surprised to see us unarmed. 'Aren't you afraid that the Arabs will murder you?' The fact that Muhammad Al-Nuagah was standing by my side did not challenge, even for a moment, this soldier's world view. We decided not to respond and continued our work, but the soldier called the settlement's security officer, who summoned a few more settlers. 'Are you an Arab?'one of the settlers asked Muhammad. 'Get out of here!' And then to me: 'Are you my brother, or his brother?'
The settlers then called a group of reservist soldiers. Their sole mission, as was made clear by their actions, was to expel Muhammad from the area. 'What are you doing here?' a soldier asked as he took Muhammad's identity card. 'Arabs are not allowed to be here,' he continued in a threatening voice, as he pointed to the ground--that is, to Muhammad's land.
We were permitted to continue measuring the property only after Muhammad, its owner, had left the area. Later, when we were about a kilometre from the settlement, one of the Palestinian measurers joined us. Soon the military jeep arrived, and again the Palestinian's identity card was taken. This time the soldiers heeded our request to call the police.
The police, however, decided to take our identity cards as well. While they were checking our personal records via radio, they summoned the civil administration, who, in the words of the police commander, are 'the sovereign, and only they have the authority to decide whether you can continue measuring the land.'
We waited about half an hour, but no one from the civil administration arrived. It was already late, and the Palestinians were in a hurry to begin their prayers and break the Ramadan fast. Meanwhile, the police returned our identity cards, and so after a brief consultation we decided to go home although the work had not been completed.
As we entered our cars, the white civil administration jeep cruised by. I stepped out of the car and went to the officer in charge, who immediately notified me that, according to the Supreme Court injunction, no work could be carried out on the property, and that measuring, in his opinion, was work. 'Measuring the land is against the law?' I asked. Yes, the officer explained, as he informed me that he intended to file a complaint against us.
This brief visit illustrates how, alongside the dramatic expulsions carried out in order to annexe the area to Israel proper, there is the daily, yet all the more insidious, categorical refusal to let a person visit his or her own land, to walk on it, to measure it, even in preperation for an upcoming trial. It also corroborated Ta'ayush's suspicion that the civil administration, military and police are not only working hand in hand withthe settlers who are against the peace process, but are taking orders from them.
The police work with settlers who are against the peace process