The Palestinian families which live along Route 60 in the South Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank have no recourse when settlers attack. The area is under full Israeli civil and military control, leaving the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority relatively helpless in dealing with problems caused by Israeli settlers. Israel practices its most profound acts of subjugation of Palestinian rights against these residents through a bureaucratic maze of laws making access to water, electricity and construction virtually impossible.
Since last week's fatal shooting of four settlers from the settlement of Beit Haggai just outside of Kiryat Arba, Palestinians in the area have been subjected to what the settlers call "price tag" reprisal attacks and repeated Israeli army incursions. Settlers have been burning fields, destroying property, stoning Palestinian houses and erecting new settlement outposts in response to the shooting. As usual, the stated position of the Israeli army that it acts as a force that will quell tension between Palestinians and settlers, has not taken place. In fact, the army is fully aware of settler attacks and yet they have taken over Palestinian houses in order to "calm the situation."
On September 4th, I interviewed three Palestinian families whose homes have been taken over by the Israeli army in response to the killings of the settlers. The discussions took place while the Israeli soldiers were occupying the homes and in some cases hours after settlers have attacked the property.
Yusri Jaber's house sits directly underneath the settlement of Har Zion next to Kiryat Arba. The Palestinians call the area the Baqu Valley while the Israeli settlers and army consider the area the "outskirts" of Kiryat Arba. The bars on Jaber's windows reflect how accustomed his family is to living with daily stone-throwing attacks by settlers. Over the past ten years, he has watched his land shrink as settlers steal his property with impunity.
On the night of the shooting attack, settlers attacked the Jaber house with a volley of stones. After hours of stone throwing, the Israeli army finally set up a checkpoint in front of the house. He was told that this checkpoint was being established for his "personal safety." The checkpoint is in addition to a temporary base established by the army on Jaber's home that has been used periodically over the past week. Instead of protecting his family, Jaber believes that the army is simply allowing the settlers to express rage without making international news. He feels as though he is a paying a heavy price for an attack which he did not support or have anything to do with. Despite the army presence, settlers uprooted parts of his agricultural fields a few hours before we arrived.
Across Route 60 in the Baqu valley, the Salima family has been living for more than eight generations in a large four-story home. On the evening of September 2nd, two units of soldiers entered the house in the middle of the night and quickly took over the third floor and the roof. The family was moved into the first floor and were told that they would have access to the third floor once per day -- otherwise, they were not allowed anywhere else in their own home. When we arrived, three army jeeps and roughly 15 soldiers were milling around the entrance and in the stairwell of the house. Mahmoud Salime was quiet and clearly tired when we spoke with him. His answers were short and pragmatic as if he felt as though he was being watched. In fact, soldiers were in all corners of his house. When I jumped up to snap a photo of a solider going down the stairwell, he quickly asked me to stop, saying, "I do not want to bother them. I do not want to give them a reason to harass me any longer. I just want them to leave my family alone." His sentiment reflected the general feeling of all the Palestinian families we spoke with: they just want the army to leave them alone and not take over their houses any longer.
Fifty meters from the site of the fatal attack lives the Shabana family. The day after the shooting, in the middle of the iftar dinner breaking the day's Ramadan fast, soldiers entered the house of Moaza Shabana and arrested him and his brother. Their phones were confiscated -- and have yet to be returned -- and they were taken to the Gush Etzion police station and interrogated by agents of the Israel Security Agency or "Shin Bet." Moaza and his brother were held for three days without communication with lawyers or family. Eventually they were released with no charge but with several bruises and marks, mostly from the handcuffs which were kept on them the entire time they were in custody. Meanwhile, the family's home was taken over by Israeli soldiers after Moaza and his brother were taken to the Gush Etzion police station. Soldiers took over the top floor and roof and created a makeshift military base. As we sat with the family, a commander came and demanded our identification cards and answers to why we were there. Ezra Nawi answered the soldier with a barrage of questions. "Imagine if a Palestinian soldier was in your living room in your house in Ramat Gan," he asked the soldier. "You are a soldier of the occupation. You have no place here. We were invited by the family. Now leave us alone!" The soldier did not really know what hit him and he slowly turned around, slightly dumbfounded, and left the house. As we spoke to them Moaza's wife begin to shake with fear. Eventually, the soldiers left us alone but the depth of the family's fear was quite apparent.
The experience of these families after the attack against Israeli settlers reflects a part of the structure of Israel's occupation. Palestinians in Hebron are pawns in the occupation with no recourse from any government authority. The Palestinian Authority is unable to help them because their homes are under full Israeli civil and military control. The Israeli government has no desire to help or protect these families. The nature of the occupation and the Kafkaesque occupation legal system is designed to make life as difficult as possible for these families in the hopes that they will leave their land, allowing more space for settlements to grow. The week of "price tag" attacks by Israeli settlers protected by the Israeli army serves to demonstrate the absolute insecurity in which these families exist.
All images by Joseph Dana. This article originally appeared on the Electronic Intifada.