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Wadi Tiran: Facing Ethnic Cleansing, Longing For Home

20 November 2023 | International Solidarity Movement | South Hebron Hills

Wadi Tiran is a good example, and sadly one of many, of Israel’s big plan to make Palestine the land without people. Over the last month, the community of Wadi Tiran has been repeatedly “visited” by either settlers or soldiers, or both (since distinguishing between them is more and more difficult nowadays), ordering everybody in the village to leave or they would kill them. One of these “visits” resulted in all windows on their tractor, pickup and their car being smashed. 

Car smashed in Wadi Tiran

The ISM team, together with Israeli activists, has been part of the protective presence in Wadi Tiran for over a week and has witnessed some of the threats this small herding homestead has endured, including settlers on motorbikes and a quad coming nearby, and only yesterday (November 18) a four wheel drive vehicle with settlers appeared inside the homestead. The settlers did not get out of the car but instead drove around provocatively and proceeded to another Tiran homestead located on the nearby hill.

The Israeli activists called the Israeli police only to be asked by them, “Why are you supporting the terrorists?” Having witnessed the terror being inflicted on the residents of Wadi Tiran first hand, we ask the same question of the Israeli government, the United States government, and other national and international bodies that enable, support, and fund the ethnic cleansing of communities like Wadi Tiran.

Wadi Tiran is a small homestead where two brothers and their families, altogether about 30 people, most of them children, live, herding around 300 sheep and goats. The father of the two farmers was expelled in 1948 from the Yattir area and moved to the arid slope of the Wadi Tiran hill where they made life ever since. 

Sheep and goats in Wadi Tiran

The two brothers talked with sadness and longing about their ancestral land where their father grew wheat, corn, chickpeas and lentils and where water was available in abundance. “Only in one part of Yattir there were more than 100 springs,” they recalled. 

Keys hang from a communal space in Wadi Tiran. Many Palestinians have kept the keys to the ancestral homes from which they were expelled. It has become a popular symbol of the right to return for refugees.

Now the water they have comes from the rain collected in one well, which they use for animals, but there is not enough of it. Additional water has to be purchased and brought from the outside at the expense they could ill afford nowadays. Both brothers used to work from time to time doing agricultural work in Israel until the start of the current escalation in hostilities, and together with all other Palestinian workers they have now lost their jobs.  

A well, almost empty, in Wadi Tiran

Efforts by the occupiers to make their already hard lives impossible have peaked now, but it started long ago. On our way to Wadi Tiran via the dirt road, we could see that in many parts it has been destroyed. That was the work of the Israeli army bulldozers, which three months ago piled boulders and piles of earth and rocks on the road in several locations to make access to the homestead difficult. We had to drive around them and sometimes over them, causing an unpleasant rocky ride, fearing for the damage to our vehicle.

The main threat to the farmers’ livelihood was ‘the law’ introduced verbally by the settlers setting out a boundary of 200 meters from the homestead where grazing is now banned. Since then, the brothers have had to buy practically all the food for their animals, and drive the seven monthly tons of it down the road ravaged by the army.  

A boy in Wadi Tiran gives water to the village’s animals

Not that the Israel occupation was ever “light”, but since the war on Gaza all the rule books and established practices have been abandoned. Feeding on the rage the Israeli nation is in the grip of following the attacks by the fighters from Gaza, settlers are out of control and all pretences that occupation authorities are attempting to stop them from committing violence, has been dropped. The military knows about settler violence and either chooses to turn a blind eye or joins in on their violence. 

What is also different currently is that nobody knows if those doing the harassing, attacking, and threatening are soldiers, settlers or settler security. The regular army has been sent to attack Gaza. The occupation of the West Bank and the “protection” of the illegal settlements was handed over to army reservists, many of whom are illegal settlers and settler security. They have formed “regional defence battalions” and these violent thuggish armies, often masked and fully or partially dressed in army uniforms, block the roads and village entrances and appear any time of day and night to attack the Palestinians, destroy their fields, their livestock and the contents of their homes.

They are either joined or are led by the “civilian” illegal settlers who have been handed large quantities of arms by Ben Gvir’s Security Ministry so that they can “defend” their settlements. While in the past the settlement security would mostly operate within the boundaries of the settlements, post October 7th, they are tasked with terrorizing and ethnically cleansing wide areas surrounding the settlements. 

There is little doubt that without serious consequences from Israel’s powerful allies, and the United States in particular, the horrendous and criminal lawlessness and violence will leave the Wadi Tiran families without a future in this area. 

Children in Wadi Tiran

Fathers of the two families told us that they fear for their future and the future of their children. “We have been farmers all our lives and that is what we do. Where shall we go?” the two farmers asked. That is the most asked question in the South Hebron Hills these days, leading to long sleepless nights, anxiety, fear, and a living nightmare, echoed in the lives of people from dozens of villages facing the same fate.