Settler attacks and their impact on the Palestinians by Hamdan Huraini

“Saleh Awad, this is my name. I live in the village of Wadadah, in the South Hebron Hills, with eleven members of my family. My life is a simple and beautiful life. I rely on our sheep to earn a decent life for my children and my family, going out in the morning to graze them and returning home in the evening very tired. When I see my children though, my fatigue goes away immediately, as I eat and enjoy dinner with them.

But, you know, we are under a ruthless occupation by the Israeli military. My whole life has changed in the last three years. I have become fearful, anxious, and lack a sense of security, due to the Israeli settlers who built a sheep farm on the mountaintop just west of my house. The farm is only four hundred meters from my house. These days, the settlers from the farm regularly chase me from my land and expel my sheep from the pastures. I have suffered great losses from their actions, but I still say, I have to bear it, I will not leave my land.

One day, I was grazing my sheep near my house. Suddenly, I heard that three settlers were attacking my house and my children. I left my sheep and went to defend my house and my family. I know that I can’t confront them because they carry weapons, but you know the heart of a father. And it happened again, and again. They kept coming, to attack my house, my children, and my family. I became very anxious, I couldn’t sleep at night for fear of the settlers attacking my home.

So, I decided I needed to leave. I demolished my house with my own two hands. I was dying inside every moment of it, I felt so sad and depressed. But I told myself for the sake of my children and my family’s safety, it is what had to be done.

I left to an area close to the village and said that my family and I would be safe there, or that’s what I thought. But before I even built my house, the so-called Civil Administration of the Israeli military came and stopped me. They didn’t allow me to build, so here I am living in the open under the scorching sun with my family.”

Saleh Awad left his house in order to protect his family from the oppressive violence of the settlers. He was so scared in his house, he feared he would lose one of his children. He left his house thinking that he would be safe, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the Israeli occupation pursued him and stopped him from building a tent for him and his children.

It is hard to believe, to see Saleh in a world that lies when they call for human rights. What is happening here in the South Hebron Hills is a shame for those who call for human rights while not seeing the crimes that the settlers are committing against the Palestinians people.

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Masafer Yatta on the cover of The Nation

In recent years, our team at Local Call and our partners at +972 Magazinehave been reporting from ground zero in Masafer Yatta — a community of over 1,000 Palestinians living under the imminent risk of mass expulsion ever since the Israeli army declared their lands a “firing zone.” The Nation is now featuring the community’s struggle, in the latest collaboration between the three outlets, written by Local Call’s Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham.

Basel was born in A-Tuwani, one of villages that make up Masafer Yatta, where he grew up in a house with no electricity due to the military’s blanket ban on Palestinian infrastructure. Yuval was born a 30-minute drive away, in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva. They have been telling Masafer Yatta’s story: a story of armed settlers acting with impunity, of schools demolished to make room for tanks, of courts greenlighting ethnic cleansing — and of a community that refuses to give in.

We hope that you’ll read “The Destruction of This Palestinian Community Was Greenlit by Israel’s Supreme Court” and share it widely, so we can continue bringing attention to Masafer Yatta’s struggle at this crucial time.


Guy Yadin Evron
Communications Manager, Just Vision

The Destruction of This Palestinian Community Was Green-Lighted by Israel’s Supreme Court

The Israeli military wants the homes of Masafer Yatta for target practice. And the country’s Supreme Court says that’s totally kosher.

Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham
The Nation, July 10, 2023

Israeli forces conduct a training drill near Masafer Yatta in February 2021.
Home on the range: Israeli forces conduct a training drill near Masafer Yatta in February 2021. (Keren Manor /

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a collaboration between The Nation, +972 Magazine, and Local Call.

So’ed stopped attending class after Israeli bulldozers crushed the village school. That day, So’ed told us, she helped young children, the students of lower grades, to escape through the windows. “We were in English class,” she said. “I saw a Jeep approaching through the window. The teacher stopped the class. Soldiers arrived with two bulldozers. They closed the doors on us. We were stuck in the classrooms. Then we escaped through the windows. And they destroyed the school.”

The destruction of the elementary school took place in November 2022 and was documented on video. Children in the first, second, and third grades can be seen in one of the classrooms, screaming and sobbing. Israeli soldiers surrounded the school, where 23 students were enrolled, and threw stun grenades at villagers who were attempting to block the path of the bulldozers. The sound of the explosions terrified the trapped students even more. In the videos, mothers can be seen pulling children out through the classroom windows. Representatives from the Israeli Civil Administration, the arm of the military that governs the occupied territories, entered the emptied school, removed the tables, chairs, and boards from the classrooms, and loaded them onto a truck, confiscating the items. The Civil Administration did not respond to our request for comment.

In 1980, the army had declared 30,000 dunams (nearly 7,500 acres) of the residents’ land to be a “firing zone”; the stated purpose was to remove Palestinians from the area, which Israel designated for Jewish settlement because of its strategic proximity to the Green Line marking the border. In May of last year, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court rejected the residents’ appeal against the firing zone, effectively giving the army permission to continue to displace the Palestinians from their land. The judge who wrote the controversial ruling, David Mintz, lives in a West Bank settlement called Dolev, about a 20-minute drive from Ramallah.

The mass expulsion of Masafer Yatta’s residents has not yet been carried out, but the lives of all the people of these villages have changed beyond recognition in the months since the ruling. Soldiers have begun detaining children at impromptu checkpoints they’ve erected in the middle of the desert under the cover of night; families watch as bulldozers raze their homes with increasing frequency; and, right next to the villages designated for expulsion and demolition, soldiers are already training with live fire, racing tanks, and detonating mines.

Army officials have stated that plans to carry out the expulsion order have already been presented to politicians. This year, with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history in power––and with its ministers openly calling for mass population transfers and the erasure of Palestinian villages––it’s very likely that the mass expulsion will actually take place. If it does, it will be the largest single act of population transfer carried out in the West Bank since Israel expelled thousands of Palestinians in 1967, in the early days of the occupation.

Both of us have witnessed the struggle in Masafer Yatta from up close. Basel, a journalist and activist, was born in one of the villages there. His mother started taking him to demonstrations against the expulsion when he was 5. He grew up without electricity in his home because the military ordered a blanket ban on construction and access to infrastructure for Palestinians in the area. Over the past decade, he has been documenting the erasure of his community on video, and his posts have reached millions of people around the world.

Yuval was born in the city of Be’er Sheva, a 30-minute drive from Basel’s house, on the Israeli side of the Green Line. For the past five years, he has been reporting on the expulsion and apartheid in both Hebrew and English. The two of us work as a team, mostly for +972 Magazine and the news site Local Call, and this article is a product of our collaboration.

Since the court’s ruling last May, Israel has made the lives of the families in Masafer Yatta even more unbearable, to the point that it’s unclear whether they will be able to survive there. This process, however, has been going on for more than four decades—in what can best be described as a slow-moving expulsion. The primary tool Israel uses is the systematic denial of building permits. Because Palestinian residents cannot possibly live in a village without houses and other basic infrastructure—and because anything they build is deemed “illegal” and summarily demolished—over time this policy has forced the residents to leave their land.

Seven days after the ruling, the military razed the homes of nine families in Masafer Yatta; 45 people were left homeless. “It was one of the worst acts of destruction I have ever seen,” said Eid Hadlin, a local activist who lives in a house that has no running water or electricity and is facing a demolition order.

The bulldozers arrived at Al-Merkaz, one of the villages designated for expulsion. The soldiers let the residents clear out their homes. The women carried their personal belongings outside and gathered them into a pile: mattresses, backpacks, underwear and shirts, shampoo bottles. An inspector in the Civil Administration looked on until the houses were emptied. Then he gave the go-ahead, and the bulldozers wrecked it all.

Najati, a young teenager, sat with his grandmother next to the pile of debris that was once their home. He was furious. “The officer told me, as he was demolishing our house: ‘Why bother building? That’s it, finished—this area is now the army’s for training,’” he said.

One morning, the residents of his village discovered that soldiers had posted warning signs on their houses overnight. “You are in a firing zone,” the signs read, in Arabic that was so riddled with errors that they seemed to have been written with the help of Google Translate. “Entrance is forbidden. Anyone breaking the law can be arrested, fined, lose their vehicle, which will be confiscated, or can face any other punishment deemed fitting.” In the following weeks, soldiers built a checkpoint between the villages and confiscated vehicles that passed through it, under the pretext that driving through a firing zone is prohibited. And so, gradually, most of the residents were deprived of their ability to move freely.

Najati said his family slept outside that night, under the open sky, and the next day they cleared the debris and took out a loan to build another house, in the same spot. “I’ve lived in Masafer Yatta my whole life, herding sheep,” said Safa Al-Najar, Najati’s grandmother, her voice slightly hoarse but her smile that of a young woman. Her home was demolished that same day as well. And so, she said, she’ll sleep in the family’s cave.

“At first, my husband and I lived in this cave,” she said. “This was our bedroom, and living room, and kitchen—everything together. The sheep lived next to us in the second cave. But 20 years ago, when my children were grown, we built a house for them. Everything we built—destroyed.”

According to data from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, since 2016, soldiers have demolished the homes of 121 families in Masafer Yatta and have left around 384 people without shelter, many of them children. And it’s not only houses that are at risk, but all buildings and infrastructure. Pens for the sheep were also destroyed, water pipes cut, trees felled; even the access roads, which connect the villages to one another, were destroyed by a huge bulldozer.

At a time when two separate legal proceedings are being brought against Israel at The Hague—in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice—Israel seems eager to avoid the harsh international condemnation that would inevitably follow from a brazen population transfer. By expelling the residents of Masafer Yatta house by house, Israel can achieve the same goal at a much smaller cost to its image.

Since the destruction of their school, children in Sfay have been attending class in a crumbling trailer parked on the outskirts of the village. There are holes in the roof through which rainwater leaks, and the bathroom door is a piece of curtain. The army has forbidden any renovation of the trailer—or the building of a new school.

So’ed’s village is fairly typical for Masafer Yatta. Most of its residents are farmers and shepherds who plant wheat, barley, and olive trees, make goat cheese, and wake up early in the morning to bake bread. The area is full of ancient caves, carved out of the soft white rocks in the hilly desert by residents many generations ago. So’ed’s parents lived in the caves, but they eventually built a house for her and her siblings.

Families whose homes are demolished by military bulldozers are forced to live in the caves, which quickly become overcrowded and suffocating. Yet the residents are also forbidden from renovating the caves, some of which are already uninhabitable.

“We want to build regular houses, to live aboveground. Sleeping in a cave is like sleeping in a grave,” said Fares Al-Najar, a resident of Al-Merkaz. Families who don’t have a cave or who refuse to accept such living conditions are forced to either leave their community and lose their land—or build a new house that will inevitably be demolished. “It’s an unending cycle,” Fares said.

Both the scope and the frequency of such demolitions have increased since the Supreme Court’s decision, which made it much easier for Israeli judges to deny the appeals submitted by the families’ lawyers. And while those appeals, too, were often denied in the past, the legal proceedings went on for years, buying the residents time to remain in their villages and organize their community struggle.

Masafer Yatta is part of Area C, a designation under the Oslo Accords, which covers 61 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military and civil control. Out of the hundreds of requests for building permits the army received between 2000 and 2020, it has denied over 99 percent of requests in Area C, according to data provided by the Israeli NGO Bimkom—Planners for Planning Rights.

In the 15 months since the Supreme Court ruling, the army has imposed a curfew on Jinba, the village where Nidal was born. Soldiers built two checkpoints next to the village: At one, there is a black tent; at the other, a tank. Both are used to detain residents, to confiscate their vehicles, and to block visitors from entering the village.

The court’s ruling in May “cut us off from the other villages,” Nidal said. “Every time we want to leave, to visit our family members, to go shopping, the soldiers detain us for at least two hours. That’s the best case-scenario. One time, they held me up for seven hours.”

People are afraid to drive to the villages for fear of losing their vehicles. In recent months, residents testify, soldiers have confiscated the cars of humanitarian workers, schoolteachers, and lawyers providing legal assistance to the residents. This policy also has a chilling effect on journalists, who are less able to come and report on the region. Cutting Masafer Yatta off from other communities is expected to make it easier for the army to carry out the population transfer with as few witnesses as possible.

The day before the start of school last year, soldiers refused to let the teachers of Jinba’s elementary school enter the village to prepare the classrooms. The soldiers at the checkpoint confiscated their car, explaining that they were in a firing zone. These decisions are made arbitrarily: The following day, the soldiers let the teachers through.

Royda Abu Aram, from the village of Al-Halawah, is a student in 12th grade, the year students take the tawjihi exams—the Palestinian equivalent of the SATs. “Yesterday I missed all my classes because there was no way for me to get there without a car or transportation,” she said. “My friend Bisan, who tried to get to school by car, was delayed by the soldiers for an hour and a half, in the sun.”

In a video recording of the checkpoint from August, a soldier, his hand resting on his gun and a large tank behind him, explains to a group of several adults and school-age children, backpacks slung across their shoulders, that “this area is designated as a firing zone, the army closed this area, and we are conducting searches here.”

Every school in Masafer Yatta has received a demolition order. “I really want to work in education. I’m interested in studying at university and becoming a language and English teacher,” Bisan, also a 12th grader, said. “But I’m worried I won’t do well on the tawjihi exam in these circumstances. It’s hard to learn when you know that you may wake up tomorrow and bulldozers will come to demolish your school.”

The Supreme Court ruling also granted permission to the Israeli military to start training with live fire in the area. Tanks have been roaring through the area between the villages while soldiers fire live rounds and detonate explosives; helicopters have been practicing landing and taking off. All these loud noises join the buzzing of the drones that the soldiers, and sometimes the nearby settlers, use to monitor whether residents are building new houses after their homes have been destroyed.

“Our entire village went outside to look at them,” said Jinba resident Issa Younis, after a day of tank training that took place next to the village last June. “The noise of the tanks was deafening. The mine detonations started before sunrise, right by our houses. All the walls shook, like we were in an earthquake.”

During one of these training sessions, in the village of Al-Majaz, soldiers placed targets on the windows of the houses, on a tractor, and on a car. Jabar, a 15-year-old boy, left his house to see what was going on. A sand cloud swirled around him—the result of a tank driving through the desert region. “The soldiers hung targets on the window of our house and on the haystacks,” Jabar said. “They wrote that they would be returning soon to shoot, but I took the targets down.”

The military promised the court that it would take precautionary measures when conducting any exercises with live fire, and that the soldiers would not endanger the lives of the residents. The reality has been different. In July 2022, Leila Dababsa was sitting in her home when she heard an explosion above her. The ceiling began to crumble. “The living room was filled with the sound of gunfire, and my daughter screamed,” she said, pointing to the holes in the tin roof. Most of the houses are built from cheap materials, out of fear that they will be destroyed. Leila and her daughter escaped and hid in a nearby cave.

“A second before they shot our house, I was picking tomatoes in the garden,” said Sa’ud Dababsa, whose house was targeted. “This is the first time that a bullet entered our home, into the living room. Before, we were in danger of being expelled. Now my family and I are in danger of being killed.”

Historically, the expulsion process in Masafer Yatta can largely be traced back to two men: Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, both of whom were senior military figures who later became Israeli prime ministers. They represent competing camps in Israeli politics: Sharon headed the Likud party, which is identified with the Zionist right, and Barak led the Labor Party, which is affiliated with the Zionist left. But on issues related to Masafer Yatta, the two worked together in harmony.

After leading the conquest of the West Bank in 1967, Sharon, then a military official, began the process of declaring various areas as military firing zones, first in the Jordan Valley and later in Masafer Yatta. “As one of the people who initiated the firing zones in 1967, everyone was aware of one goal: to enable Jewish settlement in the area,” Sharon testified in 1979. “Back then, I sketched out these firing zones, reserving our land for settlement.”

The locations of the firing zones weren’t chosen randomly. They perfectly matched the Allon Plan, which was submitted to the Israeli government a month after the occupation began by Yigal Allon, another future prime minister, and which determined that the areas should be permanently kept under full Israeli control. With their relatively arid climate, these areas had few Palestinian villages compared to the crowded northern West Bank, which made them appealing for Jewish settlement.

A map commissioned by the state in 1977 designates part of the Masafer Yatta region for such settlement. Three years later, in 1980, firing zones were declared in the same area.

In a secret meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Settlement Affairs held in July 1981, Sharon offered the army the firing zone that was declared in Masafer Yatta and reaffirmed that his goal was to remove Palestinians from the area, according to the official transcript. “We have a great interest in being there, given the phenomenon of Arabs from the villages spreading toward the desert [in the south],” he explained to the army chief of staff.

During the same period, the Israeli government worked to establish Jewish settlements in the region. Settlements like Susya, Ma’on, and Carmel were part of the state’s policy of cutting off the Palestinian population in the Negev, which is inside Israel, from the Palestinian population in the southern West Bank, like the residents of Masafer Yatta.

“For many years, there was a physical connection between the Arab population of the Negev with the Arab population in the Hebron hills. A situation was created in which the border extends inside our territory,” Sharon told the settlement committee. “We must quickly create a buffer strip of [Jewish] settlement, which will distinguish and separate the Hebron hills from Jewish settlement in the Negev. To drive a wedge between the bedouins in the Negev and the Arabs in Hebron.”

Sharon’s words are particularly relevant today, as not only the residents of Masafer Yatta but also the Bedouins in the Negev are being dispossessed of their land through the systematic denial of building permits and the declaration of military firing zones.

In 1999, Ehud Barak was elected prime minister. These were the days of the Oslo Accords, four years after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination—when there was still hope among Israelis and Palestinians that a peace deal might come. But Barak’s government decided to permanently remove the residents of Masafer Yatta. Under his watch, in November 1999, soldiers moved through all the villages, loaded 700 people into trucks, and expelled them. They became refugees in nearby villages.

“I remember that day vividly,” said Safa Al-Najar, now 70. “Soldiers came inside, while outside there were two big trucks waiting. They lifted us onto them by force, with all of our belongings. The sheep escaped on foot. They threw us into another village.”

Barak’s ethnic cleansing, carried out by a government that included the left-wing Meretz party, inspired protests in Israel led by intellectuals, among them famous authors like David Grossman. The protesters met with the general of the Central Command to express opposition to the operation, but they were told that it had to be carried out because, in preparation for further negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel had a major interest in keeping the region part of its sovereign territory.

The talks between Israel and the PLO for a final peace resolution, which took place in 2000 at Camp David, apparently led Barak to accelerate the dispossession efforts in Masafer Yatta. The thinking was that if there were no Palestinians living there, it would be more likely that the region would ultimately remain under Israeli control.

This is one reason why the “peace process” in the 1990s was in fact deeply destructive for many Palestinians: It galvanized rather than tamed Israeli colonialism. In those years, the number of Palestinian home demolitions grew significantly, while Jewish settlements were quickly populated and roads leading to them were rapidly paved.

A few months after Barak ordered their displacement, the residents of Masafer Yatta petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court against the firing zone. Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to military law––they don’t have the right to vote and so are unable to influence the legal system that rules over them—and the Supreme Court has expanded its jurisdiction to encompass the occupied territories.

Their petition remained before the court for more than 22 years. Instead of making a decision, the judges issued an interim order allowing the displaced Palestinians to temporarily return to their homes. In 2012, while Barak was defense minister, the state declared in court that its demand for forced transfer was still active, and that the army was prepared to allow residents access to work their land only during Israeli holidays and on the weekends, when no military exercises took place.

Even this temporary reprieve came to an end last May, when the judges finally rejected the residents’ petition. In the ruling by Justice David Mintz, the court accepted the state’s claims that when the firing zone was declared over 40 years ago, the people of Masafer Yatta were not “permanent residents” of the area, but rather “seasonal residents.” That is, they used to move between two places, depending on the shepherding season: They had one house in a village in Masafer Yatta and another in the city. According to the letter of the military law, the declaration of a firing zone does not apply to permanent residents in the territory, but since, as the state claimed, the residents of Masafer Yatta were only “seasonal,” their expulsion should be permitted. The Supreme Court agreed.

Such legal arguments don’t impress halima, who was born in a cave in Al-Merkaz in 1948 and has lived there her whole life. “That’s their court, not ours,” she said, “and they use the law in order to expel us.”

The names of the Masafer Yatta villages are all over old maps that predate the Israeli state, including one by British surveyors from 1879. Another can be found in a 1931 book by a geographer named Nathan Shalem, who visited homes in Jinba and noted that human settlement there “had never ceased.” Aerial photographs from 1945 testify to the existence of the villages. Even the official documentation of the State of Israel shows that in 1966, the Israeli military blew up 15 stone structures in Jinba, then under the control of Jordan, later compensating the residents through the International Red Cross.

The Supreme Court rejected this historical evidence, which was attached to the residents’ petition. “The existence of the stone houses in the ruins of Jinba, in 1966, has nothing to teach us about the situation of things in 1980,” Mintz explained in his ruling. He gave evidentiary weight only to the area’s status in the year in which the military’s firing zone was declared.

In their decision, the judges relied on the work of an Israeli anthropologist, Ya’akov Habakkuk, who lived in the region in the 1980s, for their claim of “seasonality.” Habakkuk wrote that during the grazing season, in winter and spring, the families lived in Masafer Yatta, but in the dry months of summer, they lived in the adjacent city of Yatta. This describes the lifestyle of many families living in the region in the past, though not all of them.

Habakkuk himself is adamantly opposed to the court’s interpretation of his work. He told us he had no idea his research was being used to justify the expulsion. “It was obvious to everyone around that this is their village,” he said. “The families came there consistently, always to the same cave, and when they weren’t here, no one else would enter.”

International law explicitly forbids population transfers in occupied territory, with almost no exceptions. But in their ruling, the judges claimed that if there is a conflict between international law and Israeli law, “Israeli law decides.” In the decision, they wrote that the section of the Geneva Conventions forbidding population transfers is intended “only to prevent acts of mass expulsion of a population in occupied territory in order to destroy it, to perform forced labor, or to achieve other policy goals,” and therefore there is no connection with the Masafer Yatta displacement, which was only ordered so that the military could train there.

The ban on population transfers is found in the Fourth Geneva Convention, in Section 49: “Deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive” (emphasis ours).

The story of Masafer Yatta thus represents the cornerstone of Israeli settler colonialism throughout Israel-Palestine. On both sides of the Green Line, Palestinian displacement is largely achieved by way of the law: the systematic denial of building permits, the denial of Palestinian ownership rights to the land in question, the declaration of expansive firing zones, the designation of national parks, and the establishment of new Jewish settlements to “drive a wedge” and cut villages off from one another.

“Everything that lies behind the process is the theft of our land and the expulsion of our communities,” said Nidal Abu Younis, the head of the Masafer Yatta village council. “Destroying our homes, confiscating our vehicles, destroying our roads and schools––it’s all one massive crime. They can expel us at any moment. Now more than ever, we are in need of international solidarity.”

Basel Adra
Basel Adra is a reporter for +972 Magazine and Local Call.

Yuval Abraham
Yuval Abraham is a reporter for +972 Magazine and Local Call.

Hebron Emergency Caves Project

We are getting closer to our goal of providing emergency housing to one family in the Masafer Yatta area of the South Hebron Hills.

The need is urgent; since we first took this on, demolitions have proceeded including the Sfai school, which was demolished for the third time in spite of international appeals.

Please read the message below from Cassandra Dixon, and then consider a donation to help us provide shelter to one of many families. Every amount helps.

Donate online, or send a check payable to MRSCP marked “Caves” to:

P.O. Box 5214
Madison, WI 53705

So far, we have raised just over half of the $2000 needed, thanks to those who have already donated.

As always, thanks for your generous support!

A Message from Cassandra Dixon

Dear Friends,

I’ve been visiting Palestine as a volunteer for more than a dozen years, and because I earn my living as a carpenter, people always ask me if I got to build anything over there.  I’ve always had to say no.

But my trip this spring was different. Before I was struck and injured by an Israeli settler, I was able to help friends in a village slated for demolition by Israel to create a home in a naturally occurring cave — making the space taller, dividing the living areas, and even creating a rock niche for a TV.

The renovation of caves is a brilliant and desperate effort on the part of these families to remain on their land if the threatened demolitions are carried out. Even if Israeli bulldozers reduce their homes, schools, and barns to broken stones, they intend to stay.

I’ll be returning to Masafer Yatta this fall for the trial of the settler who assaulted me, and I hope to be able to visit the homes of families who have become so dear to me. But the Israeli high court has cleared the way for the military to demolish the villages at any time. So I am grateful that the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project has taken on this Palestinian-led project to create safe, clean living spaces for these families as they nonviolently resist forced removal from their lands. I hope you will join me in donating to this campaign.

Cassandra Dixon

Friends of Hebron: New social media links

Friends of Hebron (FOH)

Just days ago, Israelis demolished several Palestinian shops in the old Hebron vegetable market. These are shops that were forced closed by military order for security reasons — reasons that have now proven themselves as a mere pretext for settlement expansion. We fear more destruction to come – we need action now!


Now as April is coming to an end, we also have good news and a number of updates to share with you. First up, we have launched on social media and encourage you to follow us on:

Last week, our Executive Director Issa Amro received the Global Advocacy Award presented by Harvard Law School Advocates and Harvard Human Rights Journal. “Mr. Amro is an exemplar of courage, risking his freedom and his life for justice,” they stated.

Issa recently testified to the United Nations about the harassment that he has been facing in recent times and the oppression his community lives under in Hebron, and all of Palestine. “My brother lives in Ukraine. He is afraid about me for living in Hebron!” Click here to watch.


We are now seeing an eerie attempt to undermine the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Palestine. Academic Francesca Albanese is under attack. For a long time, Israel has refused to even let Special Rapporteurs enter and carry out their duty. We need to protect independent voices! Please consider signing this petition:

Freedom Seder / Iftar

We had a succesful joint Freedom Iftar and Seder in our Hebron House—inspired by the 1969 Freedom Seder of the civil rights movement. People gathered for an evening against apartheid in our activist center, located directly next to a fanatic illegal settlement & Israeli army base.  Image

Furthermore, our advocacy team was represented at the Amnesty International USA Annual General Meeting. We spoke at the event entitled Witness to Apartheid in Palestine and Israel: Observations from the Field.


Last of all, we wish you all a happy Eid from Palestine! May we soon celebrate the holidays in freedom an equality!


Friends of Hebron has a U.S.-registered IRS 501(c)(3) charity status. Donations are tax-deductible.

During these tense times, please consider supporting our work on the ground in Hebron by donating.

With peace,

Friends of Hebron
Working for Peace and Justice

Friends of Hebron has a U.S.-registered IRS 501(c)(3) charity status. Donations are tax-deductible.

In Hebron, a salad needs security coordination

The direct violence of the occupation is obvious, but what are the subtle ways in which apartheid seeps into Palestinian life?

Ameera Al-Rajabi, Community Peacemaker Teams, April 11, 2023

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is marked by the war crimes directly carried out by the occupiers, such as murder, demolition, displacement, and other violations that are blatantly apparent to anyone who visits Palestine or follows the news on social media. However, after reflecting on our lives as Palestinians, I have come to realize that there are small details in our daily lives that are not directly attributed to the occupation but still have profound effects on us. These details can only be seen or felt by those who live here and grow up with the reality of an obstacle lodged in each straightforward daily task or any plan for the future.

One clear example is that of a resident of the Tel Rumaideh neighbourhood in Al-Khalil/Hebron who wanted to buy a knife to cut vegetables for a salad. Checkpoints surround Tel Rumeidah on all sides; therefore, when residents want to bring items into their homes, including a kitchen knife, they must communicate with the District Coordination Office for security coordination between Palestinian and Israeli authorities to ensure that the item will not be used illegally. The term ‘illegal’ here refers to any behaviour that Israeli authorities may deem a threat to the security of Israeli individuals. In contrast, the same behaviour may be considered legal when it involves Palestinians.

A ‘security coordination’ process can take days or even weeks. The same procedures are required for any sharp tool, no matter how simple. Have you ever had to think twice about buying a kitchen knife for your home?

Another reality that highlights the occupation’s impact is the restriction of movement. In less than four months, I will be 24 years old, and so far, I have not experienced the feeling of walking on the seaside, the waves crashing against my body, or the cool salty air on my skin. This scenario exists only in my imagination and the TV series I am watching. Is this not a product of the occupation when I face a question on Instagram about whether I prefer the sea or the mountains and cannot answer because I have not had the chance to try?

The Mediterranean Sea is only 62 kilometres away, and it takes only two hours to get there. However, checkpoints are everywhere, and when I tried to get Israeli permission last month as a last resort in an attempt to visit my country, it was rejected and postponed to a time when I could not go. This was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.

Is it not a product of the occupation that every foreigner I meet has visited Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities in the occupied territories without any restrictions, while I have only visited Jerusalem twice in my lifetime, only after obtaining permission from the Israelis?

I spoke with a woman who met her husband 20 years ago in Gaza. She agreed to marry him, and they moved to his hometown of Hebron, where he built a house for them. However, a few years later, Gaza was completely shut down, and no Palestinians were allowed to enter, even if they were from Gaza but married someone from another city. She told me that her little brother, who was only eight years old when she left Gaza, is now 28 and about to get married. She has been trying to get a permit to enter Gaza for one day to attend her brother’s wedding because he was her favourite sibling, but she will likely not be able to attend.

The last story in my article, but certainly not the last in the lives of Palestinians, is about a woman who lives in the village of Khalet al-Dhabe in Masafer Yatta/South Hebron Hills. The Israeli army has ordered the demolition of the entire village on an undetermined date. The woman recounted how she fell sick one night, and because of the occupation, no vehicles were allowed in or out of the village. She had to ride on a donkey for three hours through empty lands full of predators to reach medical attention. If anything had happened, there would have been no one to help her.

Being occupied is not only about facing direct violence but also about the subtle ways in which occupation impacts our daily lives and curtails our aspirations. It makes us afraid of getting sick without a choice of treatment or mobility. We are deprived of the simplest essentials of life, like a functional kitchen or a day on the beach. The occupation restricts not only physical mobility but also emotional and mental freedom by imposing ceilings on people’s dreams and ambitions. And while the rest of the world develops, we are stuck in a time warp: living in caves, hiding from the occupation, and using animals to move.


URGENT! Stand with Masafer Yatta today!

MRSCP has decided to join in an emergency campaign sponsored by Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) and Stop the Wall Coalition to provide emergency shelter and schools for the families of Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron hills area.

You will hear more from us in the coming week about our portion of the campaign, and about the experiences of MRSCP member Cassandra Dixon who is currently in the area.

MECA has a deadline of March 31 to raise $25,000 to begin the work and we want to encourage all our supporters to give what you can now.

As always, we thank you for your support.

They can demolish our houses, schools, and clinics but they can’t destroy these caves nor our determination to keep steadfast until we have achieved justice and freedom.
— Abu Mahmoud of Masafer Yatta

Dear Madison-Rafah,

I’m sure, like all of us at MECA, you have watched in horror these last few months as Israeli settler and military violence gets more severe and more widespread every day.

Give now for emergency shelter & schools for the families of Masafer Yatta.

Meanwhile, the people in the villages of Masafer Yatta of have suffered some of the worst abuses of Israeli Apartheid. The Israeli government designated Masafer Yatta as a “military zone.” The government and illegal settlers are intent on expelling the Palestinian families who have lived there for hundreds of years.

Last year, after an Israeli court order, bulldozers entered several of the small, rural communities in Masafer Yatta, smashing homes, clinics, and schools to rubble.

While Israeli leaders and US politicians alike watch—even encourage and support—Israeli violence there IS something you can do now to support the people of Masafer Yatta who are steadfast in defending their land and fierce in their commitment to the education of their children.

Masfer Yatta has two very significant resources. They have natural caves which, with your support now, will be turned into homes and schools. They also have the solidarity of people like you who stand against the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Your contribution to MECA now for our joint campaign with Stop the Wall will help to renovate 36 caves to create homes and schools in Masafer Yatta and provide 10 tents and 10 electricity generators as temporary shelter in case of demolition.

This is part of the Defend Masafer Yatta Campaign, and the goal is to raise an initial $25,000 by March 31 to begin the work. Please give the most you can afford today.

Shukran (Thank you),

Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch
Executive Director

P.S. The Defend Masafer Yatta Campaign must eventually raise a total of $70,000 to complete the renovation of caves for homes and schools.  Please make the most generous contribution you can now to start this work immediately and support the steadfastness of the people of Masafer Yatta. Many thanks.

Middle East Children’s Alliance
1101 8th Street
Suite 100
Berkeley, CA 94710
United States

20 years later: Remembering Rachel Corrie

WORT 89.9FM Madison

Twenty years ago today, on March 16, 2003, word came to us that our daughter Rachel had been killed in Gaza. She had been run over by an Israeli military-operated and U.S. made and funded Caterpillar D9R bulldozer, as she stood to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home in Rafah. Members of the family watched the bulldozer approach through a hole in their garden wall.

Our family’s journey without Rachel, but with her spirit large in our lives, began on that day.
—excerpt from a letter from Rachel Corrie’s parents

Cindy and Craig Corrie join us on A Public Affair to share their daughters story and tell us how they continue to fight for justice and peace in Palestine and the middle east. More information about Rachel and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Justice and Peace can be found here:

‘Who hits a 64-year-old woman with a bat?’

Cassandra Auren, an American peace activist, was visiting the Palestinian village of Tuba when settlers attacked her with a bat and fractured her skull.

Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine, March 13, 2023

Cassandra Auren seen following a settler attack in the village of Tuba in the South Hebron Hills, West Bank, March 7, 2023.Cassandra Auren seen following a settler attack in the village of Tuba in the South Hebron Hills, West Bank, March 7, 2023.

In partnership with
A 64-year-old American citizen was attacked last Tuesday by a group of masked settlers in the South Hebron Hills of the occupied West Bank. Cassandra Auren, a peace activist from Wisconsin, was standing with an Italian activist on land that belongs to the residents of the Palestinian village Tuba, when a group of settlers from a nearby outpost, Havat Ma’on, ran toward them. Auren said that one of the attackers stood behind her, and as she was turning to face him, he hit her in the head with a weapon that she described as looking “like a baseball bat.” She immediately passed out from the blow and was hospitalized with a fractured skull and internal bleeding in her head.

Tuba is an unrecognized village in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills. Like other villages in the area, it is slated for demolition, and its residents, who suffer routinely from harassment by settlers and soldiers, are prevented from building or using infrastructure. Long before the demolition and expulsion orders were issued, and green lit by the Supreme Court, residents were routinely denied building permits and any ability to develop the hamlet. Residents also report that, in recent weeks, settlers from Havat Ma’on have been coming to the village to graze their sheep on Palestinian land, destroying the village crops.

Auren said she came to Masafar Yetta out of a sense of responsibility. “[The United States] sends so much support money to Israel,” she explained, “but without knowing how it is being used to violently push Palestinians from their land. This is money that the U.S. gives with no parameters.”

Auren contacted the U.S. Embassy about the incident, which confirmed to +972 that an American citizen had been attacked near Tuba, and that the Embassy was providing her with assistance. “These settlers come and hit a 64-year-old woman from Wisconsin with a big bat. Who does that?” she said during our conversation. “And in a place where people live, so close to the village. If this had been my home, [it would be as if the attack was] occurring in my driveway. It’s shocking to me that that kind of violence happens so close to where someone lives. Children have to travel that exact path in order to get to their school.”

Cassandra Oren. (Courtesy)Cassandra Auren.

“I have tended to this land with my family ever since I was a child,” said Ali Awad, a local resident, +972 contributor, and one of the victims of the settler attacks. “This is my grandfather’s land. We have never faced anything like this. Suddenly these settlers are coming. They are a group of shepherds from Havat Ma’on who for three weeks have been coming in every day with their flock to destroy our agriculture.”

Israeli authorities have yet to make any arrests for the assault. A police spokesperson told +972 that the police opened an investigation, which is still ongoing. According to Yesh Din, an anti-occupation organization that monitors settler violence in the West Bank, between 2005-2022, police closed 92 percent of cases of settler attacks on Palestinians without filing any indictments.

Correction: An original version of this article used a misspelling of Cassandra Auren’s last name. 

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

The Heartbreak and Defiance of Occupation

WORT 89.9FM Madison

The Heartbreak and Defiance of Occupation

At a 1979 meeting of Israel’s “Ministerial Committee for Settlement Matters in the Judea and Samaria area,” created in 1972 for the purpose of establishing new settlements in the West Bank, chairman of the committee Ariel Sharon said of the “firing zones” he moved to create in 1967, “They were all aimed at a single goal, which was to create the option of Jewish settlement in the area. … These firing zones were seized for a single purpose, which was to be our land reserves for settlement.”

In the 1980s, Israel classified most of Masafer Yatta, an area in the south Hebron Hills, as a closed “firing zone,” Firing Zone 918, for military training purposes.

In 1999 Israeli forces expelled all the residents in Masafer Yatta on the grounds that they were living there “illegally” and were not permanent residents, despite most residents having documents proving their ownership of their lands.

A few months after the expulsion, they were permitted to return “temporarily” after an interim injunction from an Israeli court, as they fought for their right to remain on their lands. They suffered under IDF training, the noise of helicopters and tanks and presence of troops on the ground, disrupted access to grazing areas, destruction of crops, anxiety and fear among children and adults, blocked roads, denial of water and electricity. But they were home.

And then in May 2022, more than 20 years after the case began, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem ruled that the residents of Masafer Yassa could be expelled.

Ali Awad, activist and journalist and resident of the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta talked to Gil Halsted about what is happening now. Awad write for 972 Magazine and posts often on Instagram as ali_awad98.

Upcoming Events: March 12-16, 2023

Sunday, March 12: WORT interview with Masafer Yatta Activist
Thursday, March 16: Cindy and Craig Corrie on WORT
Thursday, March 16: Tantura Film and Discussion

On Sunday March 12 at 5 pm, tune into WORT’s World View program for a taped interview with Masafer Yatta activist Ali, who will discuss the current situation of Israeli army and settler attacks and Palestinian resistance there.  (The interview will be aired after the news.)

Thursday March 16, 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie in Rafah. We continue to mourn her loss and celebrate her life. We will never forget her.

Locally, we invite you to tune in to WORT Radio’s A Public Affair with host Allen Ruff at 12 noon on Thursday March 16, 89.9 FM or listen on line for a live conversation with Rachel’s parents Cindy and Craig. 

A Public Affair with host Allen Ruff
WORT 89.9 FM Madison

Live Interview with Cindy & Craig Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie
Thursday, March 16, 2023 10-11 am PDT; Noon-1pm CDT; 1-2 pm EDT

The Corries will talk with host Allen Ruff about their daughter, 20 years of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, RCF’s kinship with the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and the foundation’s commitment to Gaza and to Palestinian rights today, as startling events continue to unfold in the region.

The hour-long program can be heard live at the WORT 89.9 FM website here. The program will be archived at the WORT 89.9 website for later listening, as well.

At 9 pm CT on March 16, we also invite you to join a zoom showing and discussion of the new film Tantura, about the 1948 massacre in that village, co-sponsored by the Rachel Corrie Foundation as part of a year-long commemoration. 

Mideast Focus Ministry 10th Annual Film Series
Break the Silence – Stories of Occupation
Tantura: Film & Discussion

Thursday – March 16, 2023, 7 pm PT

Zoom only: Register for a link to this film and discussion by requesting a link at

Our colleagues at the Mideast Focus Film Series at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Rachel’s death with a film screening and discussion of the film Tantura:“When Israeli graduate student Teddy Katz meticulously documented a massacre of Palestinian civilians surrounding Israel’s independence, he was initially celebrated for his groundbreaking work. But soon, he was stripped of his degrees and was publicly shamed as a fraudulent traitor. Decades later, incendiary new evidence emerges to corroborate Teddy’s initial findings, not just vindicating him, but raising profound questions about how Israelis—and we all—deal with the darker chapters of history.”

The discussion will feature a pre-recorded interview with director Alon Schwarz.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

Global Day of Online Action #EndEthnicCleansing

Palestine is on fire. Since yesterday night, Palestinian villages of Huwara, Burin, Asira Qabliya, Beita, Beit Furiq and Za’atara in South Nablus district have been under full attack by Israeli settlers, supported by their military. Settlers all across the West Bank have attacked people and their lands, burned their homes, streets and cars. Over 100 Palestinians have been injured.

This is part of apartheid Israel’s long term – and now dramatically escalating – strategy to deny Palestinians their very right to exist, destroy their villages and to ethnically cleanse them from their land.

TODAY the UN Human Rights Council starts its sessions. It is time to act NOW.

Israels latest onslaught makes today’s Global Day of Online Action, prepared together with the #EndEthnicCleansing network, ever more urgent.

Please join us to tell the UN it’s time to:

  • Uphold Palestinian rights
  • Stop Israel’s impunity
  • Dismantle Israeli apartheid.

You can find more about how to join below.

United we prevail,
Stop the Wall Campaign, February 27, 2023


Global Day of Online Action

#EndEthnicCleansing #DefendMasaferYatta

Monday February 27


In the occasion of the start of the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the #EndEthnicCleansing network promotes this Global Day of Online Action to:

  • Raise awareness that Israel’s 75 years old ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is intensifying. 
  • Demand concrete international action to end Israel’s impunity, including through sanctions and an end to military and security ties – Let’s tell them that time has run out to deplore and condemn.
  • Call on the UN to comply with its duty to end apartheid and demand it re-activates its mechanisms to fight apartheid.
  • Join boycott and divestment campaigns against bulldozer companies JCB (@JCBmachines), Hyundai Heavy Industries (@HyundaiHeavyInd), Volvo (@VolvoGroup) and other corporations that enable and profit from Israel’s ethnic cleansing.
  • Support Palestinian steadfastness against the ongoing colonization of their land.

The imminent threat of the ethnic cleansing of over 1000 people in 14 villages in Masafer Yatta region is paradigmatic. Unfortunately, it is only one of many places where Palestinians are resisting apartheid Israel’s strategy of expulsion that stretches from the Galilee to the Jordan Valley, spanning almost the entire area C of the occupied West Bank and reaching the Naqab in the south.



Stop Nora’s Eviction أوقفوا تهجير نورة

Occupied Jerusalem, 2/18/2023

On 6 February 2023, the Israeli occupation’s high court rejected a request from the Ghaith-Sub Laban family to appeal an eviction order issued in March 2022 in favor of an Israeli settler organization. The family’s request for appeal, submitted through their lawyer Mohammad Dahleh, is the last legal intervention possible within the Israeli occupation’s legal system.

This latest decision comes after over 45 years of repeated lawsuits against the family by Israeli occupation and its settlers with the aim of seizing the family’ house that is rented from the Jordanian Government since 1953 under a protected tenancy lease. The High Court’s refusal to intervene means that the elderly couple, Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban (67) and her husband Mustafa (72) will be forcibly removed from their house after 15 March, clearing the way for an Israeli settler organization to seize the property.

The family house, located in Aqabat Al-Khalidiyeh in the Muslim quarter is part of a large building complex, seized by Israeli settlers over the years leaving the Ghaith-Sub Laban family the last Palestinian residents. In 2016, the Israeli high court partially accepted a previous appeal by the family against an earlier eviction order, granting them a partial “remedy of justice” whereby the house would remain with the family for additional ten years until 2026. That partial “remedy of justice” however, also ruled that elderly Nora and husband would be the only tenants, while their sons, daughter and grandchildren would not be permitted to live with them in the same house. Additionally, the settlers were allowed to file a new eviction case against the family two years following the high court ruling in 2016, which is the case that resulted in the current eviction order.

The forced displacement of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family is not an isolated case; several families in the same neighborhood are also facing proceedings initiated by Israeli settlers, in addition to dozens of families in Jerusalem’s Old City, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods in the occupied city. According to the United Nations’ Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 218 Palestinian families in Jerusalem are under the danger of forced displacement in favor of Israeli settlers, as well as dozens of other properties seized over the years. In the upcoming month, Israeli occupation authorities and courts are finalizing proceedings to prepare for the forced displacement of five other families in occupied East Jerusalem, in addition to the Ghaith-Sub Laban family, including four families in Sheikh Jarrah and Kubaniyet Um-Haron and one family in Batn Al-Hawa in Silwan.

Forced displacement of Palestinians and seizing their houses, along with the house demolitions policy that targets over tens of thousands of Palestinian houses and structures in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, are part of a systemic policy and practice of forcible transfer of Palestinians, settlement expansion and increasing Jewish presence in all the occupied Palestinian territory that Israel has been practicing non-stop since 1948. The aim of these policies is to create a Jewish majority and the slow transfer of Palestinians either through direct forced displacement and destruction of property or through creating a coercive environment that leads to their transfer.

The timing of the high court’s refusal to intervene in the Ghaith-Sub Laban’s case is not coincidental, as Israeli occupation authorities aim to forcibly displace the family before the beginning of the upcoming holy month of Ramadan. It also reflects well the current politicization of the court, as well as the role of the Israeli legal system in facilitating Israel’s expansion, annexation, and oppressive policies against Palestinians under the disguise of justice. Israel’s new government of settlers and extremists has been very vocal about its hatred and racism against Palestinians, and are accelerating measures of forced displacement, demolitions and collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population.

The family reminds Israel, the occupying power, that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory to which the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. The forced displacement and transfer of protected persons is a grave breach of international law and a war crime. The wanton destruction of civilian property is a war crime. The family also reminds the international community of their third state party obligations under the Convention and demands the international community to take all measures necessary to bring to a halt the impending forced displacement and demolitions of Palestinian families and civilian property, in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.

Finally, the family reminds the international community and the United Nations that Israeli measures and policies of systemic forced displacement and destruction of Palestinian property are catalyst for further escalation and violence. There cannot be peace or quiet while Palestinians are being killed displaced and dispossessed and their basic rights are trampled on a daily basis. It is time for justice and accountability.

Ghaith-Sub Laban Family

The theft of Harun Abu Aram’s body, home, and life

Harun was born into, paralyzed, and killed by Israel’s colonial system. The struggle to dismantle it begins in the cave where he spent his final years.

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine, February 16, 2023

Harun Abu Aram is dead. For two years, he lay completely paralyzed in a dirty cave, without running water, plagued by pain. This was his life from the moment an Israeli soldier arrived in the South Hebron Hills, in the occupied West Bank, to confiscate an electric generator and shot Harun in the neck in January 2021. The army refused to allow his family to build a home for him, despite the fact that the family was on their privately-owned land, and so they were forced to live in the cave. This is what Israeli expulsions and ethnic cleansing look like in the region of Masafer Yatta.

On Tuesday morning, at 26 years old, Harun took his final breath. His mother, Farisa, who goes by the nickname Shamiya, never left his side. She bathed his immobilized body with a bucket of water. She stayed awake with him as he writhed in pain during the nights. His sisters loved him deeply, holding the phone to his face whenever relatives would call to ask about him.

I met his mother for the first time at the end of 2020, when Israeli bulldozers arrived to demolish the family home. She built it for Harun, who was meant to get married and raise a family in one of its rooms. An inspector from the Civil Administration, the military body that governs the occupied territories, berated Shamiya not to retrieve any of the family’s belongings.

The bulldozer plowed through the home with everything inside, including kitchen cabinets. Doha, Harun’s youngest sister, cried as she watched her home torn to shreds. I remember how the dust stuck to her hair, and how her mother, a proud woman, said: “They demolished, we’ll continue to build.”

Weeks later, Harun was shot after he attempted to prevent Israeli soldiers who had arrived at his village of Al-Rakeez from confiscating a communal generator.

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

‘Geographic terrorism’

The last years have seen armed soldiers aggressively trying to block Palestinian construction by confiscating their tools, often at the behest of Israeli settlers living nearby. Sometimes, settlers themselves try to stop Palestinian construction, as they reportedly did last Saturday in the town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, where they shot and killed 27-year-old Methqal Abd al-Halim Rayan. Other times, soldiers fly drones to take aerial photos and send them to the Civil Administration, whose inspectors then arrive. This is one part of Israel’s vast colonial system, one that systematically prevents Palestinians from building their homes in areas such as the South Hebron Hills.

The dreadful hum of these drones buzzed overhead during the countless times I visited Al-Rakeez, one of the smallest villages in Masafer Yatta. Drones that peered into the homes of the poor farmers, forcing them to build at night, in secret.

Harun’s killing is a result of this colonial system, and more specifically, of the sick worldview that deems Palestinian construction as a form of “terrorism,” thereby creating a pretext for the army to “counter” it with military might.

Israeli politicians like to call this the “battle for Area C.” During hearings in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the time, Likud MK Avi Dichter referred to Palestinian building as “geographic terrorism”; right-wing MK Gideon Sa’ar argued that it will “determine the future borders of the country”; and far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, who today serves as finance minister, said that the Israeli army is responsible for the “battle.”

Palestinian residents from the village of Al-Majaz look on as the Israeli army trains in Masafer Yatta, June 21, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

Palestinian residents from the village of Al-Majaz look on as the Israeli army trains in Masafer Yatta, June 21, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

In one of his public appearances, Meir Deutsch, the head of the right-wing organization Regavim, which has been one of the major forces behind this “battle,” spoke of a “paradox” he recently witnessed. Soldiers, he said, were practicing live fire on cardboard targets in the South Hebron Hills, while 300 meters from them, Palestinians were busy building. “The enemy is taking over the territory, and our soldiers continue to shoot at cardboard targets,” he said.

These people, who have the power to send one of the most powerful armies in the world to persecute the most vulnerable people between the river and the sea — families who almost always build on their private land — have created a fantasy world for themselves, in which they are fighting against a pernicious plan by the Palestinian Authority to take over Jewish land.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority refused to pay for Harun’s treatment. I saw his mother begging the soldiers who stopped her at the checkpoint, to let her “just build a house, one room, so that I have a clean place to take care of him.” They looked at her and did not understand Arabic. Several men were required to lift Harun out of the cave when necessary. People collected money to help the family.

The army continued to arrive at the family home, even after the shooting. Soldiers confiscated the solidarity tent that had been erected there after the shooting, handed out demolition orders for nearby wells, and stopped Harun’s mother at the checkpoint to confiscate the family’s unregistered vehicle, which she used for taking her son to the hospital.

When he was 11 years old, Harun appeared in the 2012 film “Good Garbage.” In it we see Harun rummaging through a landfill, his face dirty, sorting waste from nearby settlements. He picks up a yellow mattress. His mother tells him that he should bring clothes he finds so she can wash them. When he returns home, his mother worries over his face, which was burned by the heat of the fires in the landfill.

Palestinian youth spray graffiti during a march in A-Rakeez, Massafer Yatta area, South of Hebron, January 8, 2021. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

Palestinian youth spray graffiti during a march in A-Rakeez, Massafer Yatta area, South of Hebron, January 8, 2021. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

Harun, without looking directly at his mother, is seen saying: “The sun is killing us, and they lie to us when they weigh the iron.” Something in his mother’s eyes immediately changes, and suddenly she looks at him with fear, almost anger. “You have to bear this,” she tells him. “This was imposed on us. Those who are strong live, and those who are not strong will not live. Only those who are strong can live.”

One hill, two laws

I did not know Harun. Today, his being, more than two decades worth of life, is reduced to that of a stranger, a victim. The many layers of who he was are invisible to me. I’m not the one to write about or eulogize Harun. This reduction, I know, was difficult for him, not only a reduction of his body and what happened to it, but of his image — of the person he was.

His mother whispered that he wanted to die. When she first visited him in the hospital two years ago, his body did not move, but his eyes filled with tears. His dignity, his dependence on her, particularly as a child who was once so independent, who was sent to support his family at such a young age, must have been unbearable.

It’s hard to imagine. The cave where he lived became a visitors center. Dozens of journalists and activists have passed through in the last two years, peeking in for a moment, photographing him lying nearly lifeless on his mattress. I remember how, one day, Harun turned his head away and shouted at them to get out.

The IDF Spokesperson changed excuses as time went by. At first they claimed that the shooting was in response to stone throwing and rioting by 150 Palestinians. That lie was easy to disprove, since there was both video footage and many eyewitnesses. The footage shows a barefoot Harun standing next to his family members, holding on to their generator, as the soldiers try to confiscate it. Next, the army claimed the shooting was unintended, and that it only happened after soldiers felt their lives were in danger. Finally, the spokesperson decided that the bullet that ripped through the top of Harun’s spine was accidentally discharged when Palestinians tried to grab the commander’s gun.

A caravan in the Avigail outpost in the South Hebron Hills. 16 families live in the settlement. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A caravan in the Avigail outpost in the South Hebron Hills. 16 families live in the settlement. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Immediately following the shooting, the army announced it had opened an investigation. In the two years since, I have regularly contacted the army to check on the investigation. The last time I contacted them was in October 2022, when, as per usual, they said that the investigation had not yet been concluded. Now this has changed: the army announced that the investigation is over, and that the shooter will not be prosecuted.

A minute’s walk from the cave where Harun died stands the settlement outpost of Avigail, which was built in 2001. Its homes are still standing, despite the demolition orders handed out to each and every one of them. On Tuesday, the government announced that it would formally legalize the outpost, which has long enjoyed paved roads, electricity, and running water. One hill, two laws.

As I write these lines, the bulldozers are making their way back to Masafer Yatta for another wave of demolitions. Last May, the Israeli Supreme Court authorized the army to evict over 1,000 Palestinian residents from villages that have appeared on maps since the end of the 19th century, ostensibly so that soldiers can train there. Protocols from decades-old Israeli cabinet meetings make clear that the plan to expel the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta was dreamed up to enable Jewish-Israeli settlement in the area.

Harun was born into and killed by a system of colonial apartheid. The struggle to dismantle it begins at the entrance to the cave in which he spent his final years.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.