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Am Johal: Hell in Hebron - Hebron Hills

Hell In Hebron: Hebron Hills

By Am Johal

Off the beaten path, you see the desert for miles from Hebron Hills on this September day. If it weren't for the military outposts, the barbed wire and the checkpoints, it would actually be quite peaceful here - a National Geographic spread waiting to happen. The goats are grazing nearby. Amidst the chaos and the hell, there's beauty here.

South of Jerusalem, past the checkpoints, this is the area of the West Bank which Israel has basically taken over. Our human rights delegation with Bustan, Ta'ayush and others is making our way to Hebron in an SUV. On the highway going south from Jerusalem you can see the excesses of the settlement enterprise.

We head off the highway and on to a dirt road where Mosa Abu Gibran, a member of the Fellahin minority working the land today, invites us into his cave for tea with his relatives. There is a rickety wooden fence and the stones shaping the pathway. He tells us that near here 40 houses have been demolished and Apache helicopters fly overhead to protect the nearby settlements. Two days before, a settler knocked down tents in the village. The security forces have come into villages in Hebron Hills and closed off the caves and wells where the Fellahin minority has lived for centuries. Many, deprived of shelter and water and harassed by settlers and Occupation forces, have been forced to move from the land they have called home for centuries.

He tells us that he lives as if he's second class and that he lives in fear of not just security forces, but also settlers. He says he is made to feel like an animal.

Near the settlement of Sausya, a Fellahin village which once had over 125 people residing there now has only about 30 people. The military forces, set up to protect the settlement on the hillside considered to be on Holy Land, look down on the handful of people who are left. Italian human rights activists with "Operation Dove" have been sleeping here for weeks. It wasn't long ago that the Civil Administration destroyed the village well by pushing a car into it and poisoning it with zinc. The security forces are still closing the many caves with stones along Hebron Hills where the Fellahin have tradionally lived. They even destroyed the donated solar panels that had been set up by Bustan to provide some basic level of power to the village for cooking and lighting.

The Nuwaja family, who live in what is left of their village, are now only 26. As they cook in the fire nearby, having only their tents, carpets and memories, they see the security forces with their guns looking down at them from the settlement above serving as a simple, metaphoric portrait of the Occupation.

The entire Hebron region has been under fire for decades. More recently, in 1999, security forces evicted several hundred Palestinians from the region after declaring it a live-fire area.

In January of 2003, Ta'ayush activists and members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who went to the South Hebron Hills region to Palestinian farmers plow their land were attacked by settlers. The settlers, armed with guns and stones, beat the activists and pushed a tractor down a valley and stole other equipment that was on it.

In April of 2004, Israeli security forces destroyed 11 structures in south Hebron including shacks, tents and public facilities erected by the British government's Department for International Development.

In September of 2004, the High Court of Justice decided to uphold the injunction barring the IDF from demolishing tents, caves and structures inhabited by the Palestinians in the southern Hebron Hills near Sausiya. The legal battle had been ongoing since since Yair Har Sinai, had been murdered.

Later in September, Kim Lamberty and Chris Brown, two members of the Christian Peacemakers Team, were injured in Hebron Districts after being attacked by settlers for escorting children from Tuba to al-Tuwani elemenatary school. She received treatment for a broken arm and he received broken arms and a punctured lung.

In October, eight settlers with wooden sticks and sling shots attacked Christian Peacemakers team member Diana Zimmerman, Diane Janzen, an Operation Dove member, and two Amnesty International employees, Donatella Rovera and Maartje Houbrechts. The masked settlers stole a video camera in the beating attack and the Operation Dove member was treated in Beer Sheva for a broken arm.

Recently, 60 Palestinians from Hebron Hills petitioned the High Court of Justice against the government's intention to confiscate lands for construction of the Separation Fence.

And so on it goes, nothing changes. To the outsider, this is like embracing madness as a way of life. People here are still fighting over the Promised Land in Hebron, the city of hell.


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