Israeli authors campaign against eviction of West Bank villagers 27Jun13 June 27, 2013

by Harriet Sherwood    -   The Guardian    -    25 June 2013

Israeli writersSome of the most celebrated figures in Israeli literature are campaigning to stop the forcible eviction of Palestinian communities in the barren hills of the southern West Bank to clear land for an Israeli military firing zone.

Twenty four authors – including the acclaimed triumvirate of David Grossman, Amos Oz and AB Yehoshua – have put their names to an appeal to save the villages of the South Hebron hills.

The population of around 1,000 lives “in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthless power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabited for centuries”, according to the letter, which was written by Grossman.

It went on: “In a reality of ongoing occupation, of solid cynicism and meanness, each and every one of us bears the moral obligation to try and relieve the suffering, do something to bend back the occupation’s giant, cruel hand.”

The villagers, many of whose parents and grandparents lived in caves and who still eke a traditional existence herding sheep and goats on the windswept rocky hills, were issued with evacuation orders by the Israeli military in 1999. They have been fighting the orders through the Israeli courts ever since, with a new hearing scheduled in the supreme court in three weeks.

The area – around 3 sq km – was designated as “Firing Zone 918″ in the 1970s. About 18% of the West Bank has been designated military training zones by Israel.

According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, international laws of occupation forbid the transfer of populations unless it is temporary or for immediate military needs, such as the prosecution of war.

Since the evacuation orders were issued, four of the 12 villages have been reprieved, leaving eight earmarked for demolition. The villagers say their presence in the area dates back up to 350 years, and many have land ownership documents dating from the Ottoman era.

“I have three huge files of documents of land ownership in this area,” said the Israeli lawyer Shlomo Lecker, who represents some of the villagers. “It is not disputed that this is privately owned land.”

He claimed the threatened evacuation was part of a wider process of Israel clearing Palestinians from land in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank under total Israeli control and where its settlements are located.

Mahmoud Hamamdeh, the chief of Mufaqara village, said he, his father and his grandfather were born in the area. “Despite the fact we lived in caves, we had dignity and honour,” he said, before the “cancer of settlements” took hold in the 1980s. “That was when the real struggle began.” His house, along with the village mosque, was demolished in November 2011.

Israeli settlements and outposts hug the north and west of Firing Zone 918, and its south is bordered by the pre-1967 green line and the separation barrier. Violent attacks by hardline settlers on Palestinians and their property are common; the Israeli army escorts children from Mufaqara and other villages to and from school outside the military zone each day to protect them from attack.

Three of the signatories on the authors’ petition visited Mufaqara on Tuesday to meet villagers. Zeruya Shalev said Israel was “a country of which I am ashamed” and the people of Mufaqara were “not a threat to the state of Israel”.

Eyal Megged said literature served a purpose in awakening readers’ interest in what was happening around them. “Here, it’s not just about politics, but it’s a moral and a human issue. This is the stuff that literature is concerned with, it deals with the human condition.”

The Israeli ministry of defence told the supreme court last year that the topographical character of the area made it highly suitable for military training. It said permanent residence should be prohibited but villagers could be allowed to work their land or graze their flocks at weekends, Jewish holidays and two periods of one month each year. It also said many buildings and structures in the area had been constructed without permission.

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