What I witnessed in three Palestinian villages that I recently visited in the South Hebron Hills could apply to virtually all villages in the area; for what happens in one usually occurs in others.
We saw unnecessary physical and emotional deprivation. For what purpose? To reinforce a policy of what I call "the cruelty of arbitrariness," for everything that is done to the Palestinians whom I visited has absolutely nothing to do with Israel's security needs.
In 1986, the residents of Zif petitioned the Civil Administration to build a school, suggesting a plot of land at the entrance to the village. The Israeli authorities rejected the request, claiming that it was too close to the main road, and offered an alternative site at the far end of the village.
The villagers agreed and built their school. Adjacent to the classrooms were separate bathroom facilities. In 2003, Jewish settlers set off a makeshift bomb, destroying the bathrooms. Recognizing that the sewerage line was destroyed, and that it would be unhealthy to rebuild the bathrooms in the same location, the villagers asked for a permit to build new facilities about 10 meters away from the original ones.
Not only did the Civil Administration refuse to grant the permit, it claimed simultaneously that there was no need for the school and it should have been built at the entrance to the village - the very spot that the Civil Administration refused to authorize almost 20 years earlier.
It's like eating at a restaurant and complaining that the food stinks, and there wasn't enough of it!
To this day, the school functions only with the use of the hazardous open-sewer bathrooms.
EZRA NAWI, one of the most decent Israelis I have ever met, tries to aid Palestinians, providing them with basic needs to protect those who live in the South Hebron Hills against the harsh winters. In the village of A-Tuwani, he stores blankets for distribution in an abandoned house that was built over 200 years ago. The house was constructed about 50 meters beyond what the Civil Administration has determined are the outer limits of the village - and is destined for demolition. It is also claimed that the ceiling is unsafe, despite its reinforcement.
Additionally, the residents of A-Tuwani are continually harassed by settlers from the Maon Farm. The settlers often hide in the forest, and shoot at the villagers as they attempt to go out to tend their fields. Some of the children in the village are afraid to walk to school because of the constant bullying by the settlers, which includes not only verbal insults, but also physical assaults.
ALONG OUR route, we passed the region of Si'ir, where rests the small village of El-Ganub. For the entire length of the road that we were on, we noticed a wire fence had been erected, which separated the villagers from their olive trees on the other side. It was not constructed by the Civil Administration, the army or the police, but by Jewish settlers from Asfar, who illegally confiscated dunams of Palestinian land.
The fence stretches for at least a kilometer, and therefore
could not have been built under the cover of night. Indeed, it was done in broad daylight, over a few days, beneath the watchful eye of the army - without a lawful permit.
We arrived at Jinba, our final destination for the day. Nestled in the South Hebron Hills, Jinba is home to the cave-dwellers. Despite the High Court rulings that have rejected the government's request to evict them, the IDF tries to find ways to circumvent the court's decisions. Some of the cave-dwellers own homes in other areas in the territories, but the husbands live in the caves to be near their flocks. The army contends that they can not occupy two places, and if they have a permanent home elsewhere, they cannot live in the caves.
And here is an other example of the army's "double-speak": The cave-dwellers can stay in the area after all, but have to move their flocks two hills over. Of course, the army knows that there is no land upon which the sheep can graze, as those hills are desert-like and barren.
All the while, there is a lone "cowboy" who lives in his makeshift, illegal, single-home outpost, appropriately called Lucifer Farm (in medieval Christian thought, Lucifer is a fallen angel commonly associated with Satan). He has reportedly confiscated much of the land that belongs to the cave-dwellers, and is said to go on shooting sprees simply to scare the local residents.
At the beginning of the first intifada, Amir Peretz, then a simple member of Knesset, joined a delegation from Rabbis for Human Rights to witness similar behavior as described above that was carried out against many Palestinians in outlying villages in the territories. He was "morally outraged" (his words) by the stories of settler hooliganism, of army excessiveness and of unexplainable government actions, all of which turned the life of these innocent - yes, innocent - villagers into a living hell.
Amir Peretz is now our defense minister. One can only hope that his social message of concern for the downtrodden will also extend to those Palestinians who suffer inexplicable dehumanization and degradation, for no practical rhyme or security reason. Minister Peretz has it now in his power to put an end, once and for all, to this "morally outrageous" policy of "the cruelty of arbitrariness."