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Civil Administration backtracks on granting Palestinians access to Bir el-Eid

Amira Hass | Haaretz

6 January 2009

The Civil Administration ordered Palestinian residents of the West Bank this week to stop erecting tents and building animal enclosures in the Bir el-Eid area – even though the state allowed them access to the site only two months ago, after a 10-year enforced absence and a protracted legal effort.

Tomorrow, the Civil Administration’s supervisory committee is to discuss the next step, which could involve demolition of the tents and restoration of the site to its prior condition. The site, which is in the southern Hebron Hills, is in Area C, meaning that since the Oslo Accords, it remains under full Israel control.

Beginning in the 1990s, settler harassment and police inaction led the residents of the small village to flee the caves where they were living. The huts, fencing and stone structures that they used primarily to graze sheep, as well as tents which were erected in the area, were damaged during the Palestinians’ 10-year absence from the site.

Their legal battle, which they fought with the assistance of the advocacy group Rabbis for Human Rights, resulted in an injunction requiring the Israel Defense Forces to allow the residents to return to the area.

Two illegal settlement outposts, the Lucifer Farm and Mitzpeh Yair, are just a few kilometers from Bir el-Eid. Unlike the settlements and outposts, the Bir el-Eid land has been worked and settled at least since the 19th century, if not before. Also unlike the outposts, Bir el-Eid is not connected to the electricity grid and does not have an outside water supply.

Over the past two months, the residents have been involved in restoring the site for agricultural and residential use. Monday’s orders from the IDF to stop work at the site were distributed at 12 tents, most of which were being used as residences. The orders were also sent to a tin shack, a goat enclosure constructed of stone, iron and sheets of cloth, and two stone structures.

The families who have returned to the area are based in the village of Jinbah, about three kilometers to the southeast. Residential caves and wells in the region are evidence of the long-standing Palestinian presence in the area, but Israeli authorities prohibit the cave dwellers in Bir el-Eid, and throughout the southern Hebron Hills, from building permanent housing on the land.