September 23, 2006: As we walk away down the craggy biblical landscape, she turns around to wag her finger at him and say “Remember? It is no defence to say you were only following orders”. The soldier looks perplexed and puts his hands out, letting his gun hang down from its strap. He looks like he’s struggling to find an appropriate reply – the insult of her words, echoing the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, hitting him hard.
The soldier, an Officer, is guarding a military outpost adjacent to the colonial settlement named Susiya. The woman, a representative of Ta’ayush, an Israeli anti-occupation group, is visiting the Palestinian villagers in the area with activists from the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP). On Monday, soldiers from this outpost accompanied seven young armed settlers to the home of an elderly couple where they watched as the settlers pushed, taunted and beat the old man and woman with sticks.
This happened four days ago but the officer on guard says that it is impossible. “It could not have happened. If I find out about any of my soldiers doing a thing like that, I will beat his ass. I will break his bones.” Nevertheless, Haj Khalil’s legs are now sore and swollen from the beating, one of the bones in his calf fractured. His wife buries her head in her hands as he talks, punctuating his sentences with nods and sighs of despair.
“It is very important for us to have internationals here. They must be here always. Otherwise they will come again,” says Haj Khalil. Ta’ayush, PSP and Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron are planning to co-operate on creating a permanent international presence in the area. The villagers, dotted about on the arid slopes of the Susiya valley, only a few solar cell panels and home-made TV antennas interrupting the landscape of traditionally Bedouin homesteads made up of tents, goat pens and snarling watchdogs, which all regularly fall victim to settler aggression and military complicity.
Furthermore, the villagers have been unable to tend to or even visit their olive groves for several years. The trees surround an Israeli military base, one grove right next to a field used by the soldiers for shooting practice. Among the trees lie discarded result charts, shot-through pieces of paper evidence of how soldiers learn to “zero in” on their targets. The military want the entire area from the Susiya settlement to the large town of Yatta to be evacuated of the whole Palestinian civilian population, to make it what Israel calls a “free fire zone.” This process has been frozen due to the resolute non-violent resistance of the Palestinians living in the area, but is legally difficult to challenge since Israeli courts generally do not meddle with what they regard as being ‘professional assessments’ by military experts on issues of security.
The colonists in Susiya, who arrived in the mid-80s around the same time that many Palestinian families were forced to move from their cave homes nearby to make way for Israeli archaeological excavations, did not approach the villagers today. They stood by the soldiers, their white clothing contrasting with the drab military uniforms and red earth. Their little girls wore long skirts and colourful ribbons in their hair, playing with a pet dog as they skipped back to the settlement. Haj Khalil, leaning on his walking-stick, shook his head in silence.
The Palestinian villagers of Susiya all have their own stories to tell about the fathers and brothers of these little settler girls. Most of them have bruises or scars to support their accounts of hooded men setting their tents on fire in the middle of the night, cracking their skulls open with the butts of their rifles or slashing their arms with a knife. All of them have learned that the official Israeli military policy stating that soldiers should protect both Palestinians and Israeli settlers is a sham – that while the Israeli military may sit and bond over a glass of wine with the settlers, they come to Susiya only to watch the oppression unfurl.
Devoid of protection from both the legal and military institutions of Israeli society, the Bedouin people of Susiya are left to fend for themselves, and therefore call on the support of Palestinian, international and Israeli solidarity initiatives. The villagers remain determined to continue living as they have always done, and each new breath, each stone overturned, each drop of goat’s milk bears witness to the steadfastness of their resistance.
Meanwhile, pursuing a policy of discrimination against Bedouin in the Negev, an Israeli court has rejected a request for unrecognised Bedouin villages to be connected to clean water sources. This is clearly part of Israeli state policy to ethnically transfer the Bedouin population from their land in both the South Hebron hills and 1948 land.
Court rejects Bedouin villages’ request for clean water connection
Haifa district court last week rejected a petition to connect the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev to clean water sources, citing the larger underlying issue of village regularization.
In its session as a water court, the court ruled that the water commissioner has no authority over considerations pertaining to town regularization in Israel, and therefore rejected to appeal by the Adalah Legal Center on behalf of over 100 Negev families.
The Adalah Center plans on appealing the decision with the Supreme Court. They said there is no connection between realizing the basic right all state residents to clean water and the legal standing of the Negev towns.
In the appeal filed by the organization against the water commissioner, it claimed that the right for a guarantee of minimal sustenance conditions is anchored in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, as well as in international law.
Even so, Judge Ron Shapira stated in his decision that behind the appeal lies a larger issue of the regularization of “Bedouin settlements,” and added that a public interest exists “not to encourage additional illegal settlement.”
The court ruled that it does not ignore the problem of discrimination against the Bedouin residents, but that in the court’s opinion, the problem of unrecognized villages cannot be resolved in this manner.
The Adalah Center said the ruling meant that the court decided the right to water is not absolute and can therefore be limited.
“The court’s decision in effect makes the water commissioner a tool in the hands of the government, which works to expel Arab-Bedouin citizens, residents of unrecognized villages in the Negev, through the non-provision of basic services, such as the right to clean drinking water,” the center said.
The appeal against the commissioner’s decision was submitted in April 2005, and the ruling on the matter was delivered to the Adalah Center offices last Thursday.