How Daily Life in the South Hebron Hills is Affected by the Occupation

Living Off the Land

During harvesting and planting seasons, settlers attack Palestinian farmers attempting to work and graze flocks on their lands; therefore, internationals accompany farmers in areas near the settlements.  Settlers have also routinely attacked and injured Palestinians while they shepherd their flocks.  In 2005, settlers placed poison on the hillsides where Palestinian shepherds graze their sheep, resulting in the deaths of many animals.  More recently, settlers have stolen livestock and chopped down groves of olive trees belonging to local Palestinians.

In addition to overt physical attacks carried out by Israeli settlers, Palestinians are also restricted from using their legally-owned lands because of various Israeli military and government restrictions.  In the 1970s, the Israeli government created a zone in the South Hebron Hills called Firing Area 918 for Israeli military training purposes.  Firing Area 918, along the southern border of the West Bank (Green Line), is about thirty square kilometers and includes an Israeli military base as well as twelve Palestinian villages not recognized by the Israeli military.  In the fall of 1999, the Israeli military forcibly evacuated the residents of these villages, declaring the area a closed military zone.  These villagers petitioned the Israeli High Court, which gave them the right to return to their homes in 2000.  However, a court case is still pending and the Israeli military continues to  use the land for military purposes.  [link to B'Tselem report]

Villagers in the region have used the Israeli court system to assert their ownership rights to their lands, and have won court cases against the Israeli settlers who erroneously claimed ownership of certain areas.  However, the Israeli military does not prevent Israeli settlers from attacking and harassing Palestinians even in these areas, and continues to use closed military zone orders to prevent Palestinians from working their land.  

Freedom of Movement

The Israeli military regularly sets-up temporary checkpoints on Route 317 and on the Palestinian road leading north to Yatta, which result in a restriction of travel for Palestinians.  The Israeli military also heavily patrols the area near the southern border of the West Bank in an attempt to prevent Palestinian day laborers from traveling to Israel.  The Israeli military has prevented Palestinians from improving the rough dirt roads in the area and has created roadblocks and earthen mounds to prevent vehicular traffic.

Located just a twenty  minute walk northeast of At-Tuwani, the people of Tuba once had easy access to At-Tuwani and markets in Yatta. Since the construction of Ma'on settlement and Havat Ma'on outpost, the road to Tuba has been effectively cut off for Palestinians, because the settlers now control the road and surrounding vicinity.  Residents of Tuba must now take a longer route, nearly an hour’s walk over the hills, to get to At-Tuwani.  All vehicle traffic to Tuba, including trucks carrying necessities such as water and animal feed must travel a circuitous route, thus increasing the cost of transporting goods by nearly 400%.  

The Israeli civil administration constructed a low “security wall” along Route 317 in 2006, prohibiting vehicular traffic between the South Hebron Hills and the economic center of Yatta.  The South Hebron Hills villagers and their supporters mounted acampaign of nonviolent demonstrations against the low wall at the same time as a court appeal was filed on their behalf.  When the Israeli High Court decision ordering the dismantling of the low wall was finally enforced six months after the court handed it down, the villagers claimed a major victory.

Access to Services

Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills have been seeking to improve their access to health care, education, electricity, and water for many years.  In Area C, infrastructure improvements, although often funded through the Palestinian Authority or international development organizations, have been restricted by the Israeli Civil Administration, which maintains control of development in Area C.  In the South Hebron Hills, the Israel Civil Administration has made the process of improving infrastructure quite challenging by issuing stop-work orders for projects, and ordering soldiers to demolish structures, confiscate  equipment, and detain workers.

 The At-Tuwani villagers’ struggle to connect to the Palestinian electrical grid is another example of these restrictions.  Beginning in 2001, the At-Tuwani village leadership submitted the first application for permission to develop electrical infrastructure for the village, and it wasn't until 2009, eight years later, that the village was finally connected to the electrical grid.  The Israeli Civil Administration, which routinely restricts development for Palestinian communities, almost automatically allows infrastructure improvements for Israeli settlements and outposts, improvements which are, in many cases, subsidized by the Israeli government.

Restrictions on Village Expansion

In a challenge to the standing demolition orders for buildings in At-Tuwani, the village began building a new mosque in 2006 to replace the original mosque that the military demolished in 1987. The new mosque has been in use since the spring of 2006 and currently has a demolition order.

Israeli authorities have targeted village leaders with punitive demolitions. The At-Tuwani mayor's home was demolished in 2004.  The coordinator of the South Hebron Hills Popular Resistance Committee was issued a demolition order for his home in 2010.

The Israeli Civil Administration has prevented villages in Area C of the West Bank from updating their municipal development plans since the Israeli military occupation began in 1967.  Its control over the region has thus made accommodating for the natural growth of the population in these villages difficult.  The civil administration rarely approves Palestinian applications for building permits, which leaves new construction under threat of demolition.

In contrast, Israeli settlers continue to expand nearby settlements, such as Havat Ma'on outpost, which was issued demolition orders the Israeli government in 2006, but to date the Israeli authorities have not followed through on these orders.