The hills south of Hebron are home to many Palestinian farmers and shepherds who live off the land. But in recent years a line of settlements have slowly pushed them out of their homes. The people of Susiya village now live out of tents and caves with only two hours access to electricity a day, through the use of solar panels and wind turbines. The people also have limited access to water, perhaps only up until midsummer. From then on they have to buy water from the Israelis. The people used to be able to walk or drive to Yatta, which is the biggest city in the area, to buy essentials such as rice and lentils. But the Army has built a military base over the road and barred the Palestinians from using it. This means a three hour drive around the hills and settlements to get to Yatta. The children also face an ordeal to get to school in Yatta, they must pack enough food for the week and go and live in Yatta until the weekend. Thankfully for the younger children, a car has been provided and the gas paid for by private donations inside Israel, though this only deals with the symptoms of the problem of closures, instead of the disease.
Today, on the 16th of February, around fifty Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists marched down the forbidden road to the roadblock. The Palestinians removed the roadblock and made speeches in Arabic and Hebrew. The Army arrived but decided against clearing the area, instead concentrating on protecting the military base. For many Palestinians this was the first time they could walk down the road to the roadblock. In the hour that the demonstration lasted, shepherds arrived with their flocks using the time to allow their sheep and goats to graze pastures that are usually cut off to them.
The area is surrounded by many settlements including Siheya, Mo’am and Karmel as well as outposts, which are deemed illegal under Israeli law but are rarely removed. The people told us that they are often attacked by settlers and the Army who patrol the area. Palestinians are also denied access to the archaeological site nearby which is claimed by the settlers to be a 3rd century Synagogue. This it may be, but the people are not allowed in the site or the surrounding area which denies yet another piece of land to the villagers.
Todays demonstration showed the power of non-violent action and is hopefully will continue in the ongoing struggle.