By EA Penny
EAs’ first encounter with Basil Adara is around the sorry sight of a felled olive tree. For Basil this is all too familiar. The trees belong to villagers from At-Tuwani, a substantial village in the South Hebron Hills, close to the main town of Yatta. Israeli settlers frequently come onto their land and vandalise it.
Basil has lived all his life under occupation, and has lifelong experience of nonviolent resistance. He was born in At-Tuwani in 1996, the second of six children. Close to the village is the Israeli settlement of Ma’on (established 1982) and its outpost (a small unofficial settlement), Havat Ma’on, (established 2001). These settlements have caused the villagers of At-Tuwani many problems.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian West Bank since 1967, so the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. This prohibits an occupying military power from moving its own population into the occupied territory. Thus, although the Israeli government disputes this, all settlements are illegal under international law. The Oslo Accord divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. In Area C, which comprises 60 per cent of the territory, military authorities control all aspects of daily life. This includes At-Tuwani.
Basil remembers particularly bad settler violence in the early 2000s. This was around the time of the Second Intifada but also coincided with the establishment of Havat Ma’on. The aggression of its occupants is well documented (for example, see Washington Post and Middle East Monitor).
The people of At-Tuwani live mainly from the land, grazing flocks of sheep and goats, keeping chickens, and tending olive trees. Basil remembers how difficult it was then for villagers to go onto their own land. Settlers attacked them, shot sheep and donkeys, and poisoned wells. His mother established a women’s co-operative, operating from her house. By weaving and embroidery the women were able to supplement the family income. It also symbolised the villagers’ resistance. Throughout Basil’s narrative the strength, determination and mutual support of the villagers is apparent.
When Basil was two, the villagers decided to build a three-roomed school for the community’s children. The Israeli government states that Palestinians must obtain building permission first, though this is almost impossible. Just 1.5 per cent of applications are accepted. The villagers therefore decided to go ahead without consent. The Israeli army then threatened demolition of the building, along with the arrest of anyone found working and confiscation of tools. But the villagers built quickly, with women and children spending days in the unfinished building to conceal the activity. Today at At-Tuwani, unusually for an Area C village, there is a master plan for the community and building is permitted. Although it is not entirely clear how this happened, it seems that it was the result of determination and international pressure.
In 2010 Basil had an early experience of activism. By that time At-Tuwani School only accommodated Grades 1-9. Older children had to go to al-Karmil, walking three kilometres each way in all weathers on a dangerous road. Basil’s class had started Grade 10 there but also began campaigning for higher grades to be taught in At-Tuwani School. Supported by parents and the village council, the campaigners succeeded and 40 days later returned to At-Tuwani. Grades 11 and 12 were added in the next two years, so Basil was among the first group of students to complete an education at At-Tuwani.
Another battle Basil remembers concerns electricity. Palestinian villages are not allowed to connect to the Israeli system, which serves Israeli settlements only. Most have solar panels and/or wind turbines. At-Tuwani, however, is close enough to Yatta to connect to the town’s supply. But the first pole carrying the cables into Area C was immediately demolished by the army. At once the village united: women and children blocked the road into the village preventing the army from entering to demolish more poles.
Basil recently graduated with a law degree from Hebron University and is looking for a two-year training post so that he can become a lawyer. Meanwhile he is very active in the protection of At-Tuwani. This was how we came to meet around the vandalised olive tree – 21 more have gone from that small plantation in three weeks.
Find out more about the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the two-tier legal system that governs Israelis and Palestinians, by visiting the website of the Israeli peace organisation, Yesh Din.
Please write to your elected representatives and ask them to put pressure on the Israeli government to halt their expansion of illegal settlements, and their restrictions on building and development for Palestinians. Ask them to put in place effective measures to protect the Palestinian population from violence and harassment.