The quiet violence of uncertainty and fear

By EA Anne, Southern West Bank

“Living with uncertainty is particularly hard for the children”. Suleiman, an elder of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Khair

No one in the world can be certain about what any particular day will bring. But for Palestinians living in the occupied territory of the West Bank, uncertainty is a significant part of life. Occupation has meant that they have little control over their lives, with no assurance that their basic needs will be met, or that they will receive protection under the rule of law. As an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) in the southern West Bank I have found this to be a reality for many people.

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The fence between Karmel settlement and Umm al-Khair. Photo: EAPPI/Anne

The Bedouin people from Umm al-Khair told us that, following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, they were moved from the Negev desert and settled here on land that cost them 100 camels. In 1983 the Israeli settlement of Karmel was established nearby, on land appropriated from the Bedouin. Karmel has since expanded to the extent where its boundary is close up against Umm al-Khair. The removal of Umm al-Khair would allow further expansion of Karmel. Under international law the settlements in the West Bank are illegal. The Fourth Geneva Convention states that it is illegal for an occupying power to settle its own population on occupied land. Outposts are illegal under both international law.

The Bedouin go on to tell of harassment and attacks from settlers, particularly if anyone goes close to the boundary. There have been regular demolitions: five times since 2007. In 2014 17 buildings were demolished and there were further demolitions in 2016 (see EA Liz’s blog). Structures rebuilt on the site of a demolition can be destroyed without another demolition order being issued. The new building must be at least 25 metres from the old structure to require another demolition order – forcing a gradual shift of the community away from the original site. The Fourth Geneva Convention also says that an occupying power has a duty of care to the occupied people, and should not demolish the property of the occupied population (unless for security reasons). This is complicated by Israeli building laws, which require permits that Palestinians are unlikely to acquire.

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Suleiman, the village elder of Umm al-Kheir. Photo: EAPPI/Anne

On 4 July the Israeli Civil Administration came to take photographs, which suggested that demolition could be imminent. Drones had also been seen. Regavim (a hardline settler group that identifies and reports possible structures for demolition) often takes photos by drone. EAs were requested to sleep over with the community to witness the demolition should it happen in the morning. Demolitions often happen early, at around 6am. There was no demolition, and the waiting continues. The village elder, Suleiman, reflects that the uncertainty is hard for all the community, and the children are particularly vulnerable.

Ahmed is a shepherd from the Palestinian village of Qawawis. His family owns land legally. Israeli settlers arrived in the area in the early 1980s. Ahmed’s land is now in the shadow of the settlement of Susya, with the outpost of Mitzpe Yair to the south.

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Shepherd Ahmed with his flock in the shadow of Susya settlement. Photo: EAPPI/Anne

Some years ago a settler started to grow vines on part of the land. After a lengthy court case, the land was restored to Ahmed’s family. He now grazes his flock here daily.

In the summer, however, Ahmed requests EA protective presence to avert attacks and harassment from settlers. He tells us that he was confronted recently by two settlers (one armed) who smashed his phone and took his watch from his arm. EAs witnessed someone (identified as a settler) driving a quad bike over his land, near the flock. Under the Geneva Convention people have the right to be treated humanely, free from violence and harassment. We have also seen drones circling around us. Ahmed is very concerned about shepherding without a protective presence.

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Contact your MP or other elected representative and use this story to raise the issue of the occupation. Discuss the growth of settlements and contraventions of international humanitarian law.