February 2017 Report: Palestine-Israel
The month of February has opened with the sad piece of news of the approval by the Knesset of a bill legalizing 16 Israeli outposts built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The aim of the measure, as made clear by some Israeli politicians’ statements is to “regularize the status of settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and allow them to develop”.
Furthermore the construction of another 10 km section of the separation wall in the area south-west of Hebron has been completed. It lies between the two checkpoints of Tarqumiya and Meitar. In the area of the South Hebron Hills soldiers and settlers continue to set the rhythm of Palestinian residents life, limiting and hindering their freedom of movement by means of checkpoints, unjustified detentions, assaults and intimidation. In particular during the second half of the month, Operazione Colomba volunteers witnessed the demolition of a water well in the Bedouin Saraya valley, the sole drinking point for the flocks of the local shepherds. Since the beginning of 2017, as stated by a European Union report, 135 demolition orders, confiscations and evictions have been notified by the Israeli Administration. Such orders are clearly aimed at undermining the livelihoods and the economy of Palestinian residents of the area.
Sharing, Work and News on Volunteers
Life in the village of At-Tuwani opened in February with a new nonviolent action promoted by women and youths. On the morning of February 4 they gathered in the valley adjacent to the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on to plant olive trees, to sing and express their right to freedom of movement. The response of Israeli settlers was immediate: at their call, police and a consistent deployment of Israeli forces arrived on the site, closing the area and forcing Palestinians to leave their land. This was followed by the invasion of the village of At-Tuwani by dozens of settlers who, not only haven’t been turned away by the present Israeli authorities, but were instead protected. Police and army even attempted to arrest some village boys. Once again the treatment perpetrated by Israeli military forces at the expense of the Palestinians was documented by Operazione Colomba volunteers present at the site.
The will of At-Tuwani people to continue their nonviolent resistance was punished a few days later, when the Israeli army broke into the village. Soldiers armed with machine guns entered many houses, searching and removing those who asked too many questions. The volunteers who were present were not given explanations, they only witnessed that the incursion was focused on the research of kids between 13 and 18 years old. Despite the episode ended without arrest, soldiers threatened the possibility of returning at night. Although this threat did not come true, many other events shook the peaceful daily life of the inhabitants of the South Hebron Hills. Operazione Colomba volunteers repeatedly witnessed, during the month, attempted harassment by settlers at the expense of both shepherds who grazed their herds on their land, or children who were returning home from school. This month too was marked by problems with the military escort accompanying children from the villages of Tuba and Maghayir al Abeed to school in At-Tuwani: delays and inaccuracies of the soldiers were documented by volunteers. On one occasion the military escort did not show up at all, and children, together with volunteers, had to take an alternative and very dangerous route to return home. As expected, they were chased by settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on armed with sticks and slingshots. Fortunately no one was reached, but again it was evident the unreliability of the military escort and impunity of settlers.
The daily hardships of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation did not prevent the normal course of business that, after the long-awaited rains, saw the return of the shepherds in the valleys and, alongside them, of Operazione Colomba volunteers, armed as usual with their camera.
The month of February was very important for Operazione Colomba volunteers who went in the Nablus area to accompany the shepherds of the neighboring valleys. These shepherds face daily the risk of accessing their lands because of very violent attacks by the settlers from Yitzhar and Har Brakha settlements, often supported by Israeli military forces. The accompaniments were very helpful to volunteers to better understand the situation of the area and to forge new partnerships especially with the inhabitants of the small towns of Burin and Madama. Volunteers monitored the constant presence of the settlers, who never failed to show up at every opportunity, though they were quite puzzled by the presence of international accompaniment to Palestinian shepherds.