This last Saturday was an eventful day for Taayush in the South Hebron area. First we accompanied Palestinians to go farm their lands near the illegal outpost of Asahel.
Immediately after arriving near the outpost, a female settler came out and started throwing stones at our group. A few soldiers were already there, and they just watched while she threw rocks which hit a couple of people. Soon after this we started working, a young Palestinian man was arrested – apparently for not moving back a foot when the soldiers told him to.
The soldiers then demanded that the Palestinians and Taayush members leave the area stop working. To hasten the process, the soldiers came with a paper they said was a military order identifying the area as a closed military zone, and an accompanying map to prove it. However, when we challenged the authenticity of the order and the map, they backed down.
While this was happening, a few more settlers came down the hill, yelling obscene insults at us. This included graphic comments about Taayush members engaging in sodomy. There were more threatening gestures and comments, however. The male settler pretended to shoot us with his fingers, and said we belonged ‘underground’. One of the women said to a Taayush member that she would kill her, and threatened another with having his head smashed by a rock.
Eventually the soldiers brought a real military order for a ‘closed military zone’. The soldiers wanted to make us leave in a way that required the least effort from them. They proposed that if we left, they would release the Palestinian they had previously arrested,although he would have to report back to the police the next day. After a bit of wrangling over details, we came to an agreement and set off for our cars with our Palestinian friend in tow.
As we neared the road, two of the settlers approached from the opposite direction. They had gone around the back of the hill to meet us. The same female settler as before started throwing rocks at our group, hitting several people. One time, she was clearly aiming at the head of a young Palestinian, and the rock cut the hand of a Taayush member who tried to block it.
During this barrage, the two settlers covered their faces. The man wrapped his tallit (prayer shawl) around his face, and the woman covered her face with part of her head covering. It is not clear why they did so because we had already seen their faces.
The next notable event of the day occurred near the settlement of Kiryat Arba, close to Hebron. We had heard that some settlers from Kiryat Arba were starting to fence off an area on a Palestinian’s land.
The status of the land there is particularly clear-cut, as Kiryat Arba is fenced off around its perimeter, negating any possible claims that its land extends further. We went to inspect the land in question and found a family of settlers sitting there surrounded by several poles they had recently erected. From there, we went about 100 meters to view a structure, apparently some sort of clubhouse, that had been built by settlers. On this day, there were several boys, none older than 14, standing around this crudely built structure containing supplies of water and gas.
Three soldiers sudenly arrived, apparently in response to having been alerted by the settler family. The leader of the three was fairly aggressive, and tried to grab the video camera out of the hand of a Palestinian who was with us. This soldier then approached him again as if to threaten or engage him physically, but turned away when the Palestinian yelled for us to film what was happening.
Shortly thereafter, the family of settlers came over, and then around 10 more soldiers arrived. The mother settler immediately started screaming invectives at us, and yelling at the Palestinians with us to ‘go back to Iraq’. After some Taayush members argued with her for a little while, the soldiers produced a document declaring the area a closed military zone. However, there were two problems with this claim.
First, the military order wasn’t signed, making it invalid. Second, and more significantly, the soldiers only wanted us to leave, and to let the settlers stay where they were. This was a violation of the law, as the structure was on private Palestinian land. Legally, all of us, including the settlers, should be required to leave, however the settlers were permitted to stay.
We pointed these facts out to the soldiers, but they told us that if we did not leave the area in the next 10 minutes, we would all be arrested. During our argument, the settlers all went inside the clubhouse. With no alternative, we left, but with the knowledge and proof that in this instance the soldiers had broken Israeli law.