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Israeli occupation forces and settlers killed 28 Palestinians in the West Bank during February – an average of one fatality per day – according to The Electronic Intifada’s tracking based on reports from media outlets and human rights groups.
Seven Israelis were killed during what occupation authorities said were attacks by Palestinians during the month. That figure includes a police officer who was shot by an Israeli civilian guard after he was allegedly stabbed by a 13-year-old Palestinian in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem on 13 February.
Tor Wennesland, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East envoy, told the Security Council in late February that “we are witnessing a surge in violence, including some of the deadliest incidents in nearly 20 years.”
A coalition of Palestinian civil society groups meanwhile urged the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor to “urgently issue a preventive statement to deter the commission of more crimes by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians.”
More than half of all Palestinian fatalities in February occurred during two separate raids.
Five Palestinians were reportedly killed during a raid in Aqabat Jabr refugee camp near Jericho on 6 February. The deadly raid followed a 10-day siege after what Israel said was an attempted shooting attack during which a Palestinian allegedly fired one bullet at a road junction.
Israel announced that five were killed and three were arrested during the raid. But the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq said that “the actual fate of those Palestinians remains unknown as Israel continues to withhold the bodies of those killed” and those arrested were “illegally transferred” into Israel.
Eleven people were killed during a daytime incursion into Nablus’ city center on 22 February – the single deadliest Israeli operation in the West Bank since the UN began tracking data in 2005.
The second most deadly Israeli operation during that period occurred in January, when occupation forces killed 9 Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp; a 10th person later died from his injuries.
Among those killed during the Nablus raid were a boy and at least two men over the age of 60 and three armed resistance activists who were apparently extrajudicially executed when Israel applied the pressure cooker procedure on a structure in which they were hiding.
Video documentation of the raid shows Israel using lethal force against Palestinians in an apparently wanton manner. Dozens of Palestinians were injured by live fire.
Sixty-seven Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, or died from injuries sustained previously, according to The Electronic Intifada’s monitoring.
On 3 February, Abdullah Qalalweh, 25, was shot and killed by soldiers after he reportedly ran towards them at Huwwara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus and didn’t heed their commands to stop.
On 7 February, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 16-year-old Hamza Amjad Yousif Ashqar as Palestinian youth confronted occupation forces during a raid in Nablus.
Two days later, Sharif Hasan Rabbaa, 22, was shot and killed after allegedly attempting to stab soldiers in Fawwar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Hebron.
On 10 February, Hussein Qaraqe was apparently extrajudicially executed by an off-duty police officer after he crashed his car into a group of people at a bus stop in Ramot, a settlement in the occupied West Bank north of Jerusalem.
Three Israelis, including two children, were killed in addition to Qaraqe. Israel alleges that the crash was a car ramming attack but the driver’s family said that Qaraqe lived with severe psychological difficulties resulting from a fall from a crane years earlier.
Qaraqe was released from a psychiatric ward after experiencing a psychotic episode in the days before the deadly crash. A relative told Israeli media that Qaraqe was heavily medicated and denied that it was a “terror attack,” as claimed by Israeli authorities.
On 11 February, 27-year-old Mithqal Suleiman Rayyan was shot in the head and killed by a settler in Qarawat Bani Hassan, a town near Salfit. The town’s mayor said that settlers, who frequently attack the community, had provoked residents, who attempted to defend themselves by throwing stones.
Palestinians in Qarawat Bani Hassan told Israeli media that witnesses who can identify the settlers who killed Rayyan were not interviewed by Israeli authorities.
The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din points to “a longstanding systemic failure” by Israeli authorities in response to settler violence against Palestinians.
The following day, an Israeli sniper shot and killed Qusai Radwan Yousif Waked, 14, during a daytime raid in Jenin refugee camp. The teen, who was unarmed, was standing some 100 feet between three armed men “when an Israeli sniper exchanged fire” with the latter, according to Defense for Children International-Palestine.
Another Palestinian, 21-year-old Amir Bustami, was shot and killed during a raid in Nablus on 13 February.
The following day, an Israeli sniper shot and killed 17-year-old Majid Muhammad Ayed while Palestinians confronted raiding occupation forces in al-Faraa refugee camp near Nablus.
Also on 14 February, Harun Abu Aram, 25, died from injuries sustained when he was shot by Israeli soldiers in the Masafer Yatta area south of Hebron in 2021. Abu Aram and others were trying to take back an electricity generator that soldiers had confiscated from a family when he was paralyzed by an Israeli bullet.
On 20 February, two days before Israel’s deadly raid in Nablus, 16-year-old Muntaser Muhammad Deeb Shawa died from wounds sustained while he was participating in confrontations against Israeli soldiers during an incursion in Balata refugee camp on 8 February. Soldiers had raided the Nablus area in order to escort Israeli settlers to Joseph’s Tomb, a flashpoint of deadly occupation violence.
Another Palestinian, 30-year-old Ahmad Nabil Sabah, died on 23 February after being shot in the stomach during a raid in Jenin on 12 February. Sabah was reportedly a fighter with the Jenin Brigade.
On 24 February, 22-year-old Ahmad Jawabreh died one day after being shot by Israeli forces during confrontations in Arroub refugee camp near Hebron.
Sameh Aqtash, 37, was killed in Huwwara, near Nablus, on 26 February as hundreds of settlers attacked the town, hours after two Israelis were shot dead by a Palestinian assailant who has evaded capture.
Aqtash’s family contends that he was killed by soldiers.
Days before he was killed, Aqtash had returned from Turkey, where he was volunteering to support earthquake victims.
Two other Palestinians were shot and wounded during the rampage, another was stabbed and another beaten with an iron bar. Nearly 100 Palestinians were injured as a result of inhaling tear gas fired by the military.
During their eight-hour siege on Huwwara, Israeli settlers set fire to Palestinian homes and businesses, as well as trees and vehicles. The Israeli military “facilitated” the attack, according to Al-Haq, “by closing off all the entrances to the town in advance” and by “permitting the entrance of hundreds of settlers by foot and preventing the entry of medics and journalists.”
Earlier in the day, a settler leader put out a call for Huwwara to be “wiped out.” The settler leader’s tweet – which was liked by Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, newly appointed to head the civil administration in the West Bank – stated that “the deterrence that was lost must return now, there’s no room for mercy.”
One day after the attack in Huwwara, Elan Ganeles, a 27-year-old dual US-Israeli citizen and Israeli army veteran, was shot and killed while driving in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank.
On 1 March, 22-year-old Mahmoud Jamal Hasan Hamdan was shot and killed during a raid into Aqbat Jaber refugee camp, which had been under siege following the slaying of Ganeles.
Israeli authorities said that “two suspects” in the killing of Ganeles were captured during the raid.
And on 2 March, Israeli forces shot and killed 17-year-old Muhammad Nidal Ibrahim Salim in the town of Azzoun, near the West Bank city of Qalqilya. Defense for Children International-Palestine said that the teen was the 14th Palestinian child killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of the year.
Also during February, a 75-year-old Israeli man died eight months after he was injured by an ax blow to his head during an attack in Elad, a city in Israel. His death brings to four the number of people who were allegedly slain by two Palestinians who were arrested after a 60-hour manhunt.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian prisoner died in Israeli custody with less than two years remaining in his 12-year sentence. The Palestinian Prisoners Club accused Israeli prison authorities of “deliberate procrastination” in providing Ahmad Abu Ali, 47, with necessary medical treatment.
More than 100 Palestinians were reported among the more than 50,000 people killed in catastrophic earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria on 6 February.
182-day Palestinian hunger striker to be released
Yesterday, we planned to hold a demonstration to #FreeKhalil, the 182-day Palestinian hunger-striker protesting his evidence-free incarceration — but then we learned that Khalil suspended his hunger strike in exchange for an October 2 release, so we canceled our demonstration and instead a handful of us went to the Capitol and covered the State Street entrance with pro-Palestine, pro-resistance, and messages of victory 🇵🇸❤️🔥
The Palestinian hunger striker, whose images shocked the world amid his more than 170-day strike, has ended his strike after striking a deal to be released
Palestinian administrative prisoner Khalil Awawdeh, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 170 days with a two week pause, is seen at Assaf Harofeh hospital in Be’er Ya’akov, Israel, last week. Credit: Sinan Abu Mayzer/Reuters
Khalil Awawdeh, whose lawyers have warned he could die at any moment over 170 days into his hunger strike, announced that he is ending his strike after an agreement was reached to end his administrative detention on October 2nd.
In a video, Awawdeh said he will stay in the hospital for treatment and supervision until he recovers.
העציר המנהלי חליל אלעוואדה הודיע שהוא מפסיק את שביתת הרעב לאחר שקיבל הודעה רשמית באמצעות עורכת הדין שלו שהוא ישוחרר ב2 לאוקטובר
אלעוואדה הודיע שהוא ישהה בבית החולים לטיפול והשגחה עד שיתאושש ובתקווה שעד מועד השחרור הוא יצליח לעמוד על רגליו. pic.twitter.com/Tr1EMUrmxz
— Jack khoury.جاك خوري (@KhJacki) August 31, 2022
“This is another victory in the series of wins for administrative detainees who led a struggle for their release and freedom. I am ending the strike after I received word of my victory.”
Awawdeh’s wife celebrated the news of her husband’s release. “Khalil proved that the Palestinian prisoner can achieve victory over the occupation.”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the “historic campaign he led will be recorded in the annals of Palestinian struggle.”
A senior Egyptian source told Haaretz that Egyptian officials were part of backdoor talks with Israel to secure Awawdeh’s release, which was apparently a condition promised as part of the recent ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip. The source added that talks to secure senior Islamic Jihad commander Bassam al-Saadi’s release are still under way.
Back by an Egyptian guarantee, Awawdeh signed that he will not return to “terrorist activities” as a condition of his October 2 release, an Israeli security source said, adding that Israel will release him as long as there is no reason to believe otherwise.
Weighing under 90 pounds, Awawdeh’s photos shocked the world and led world leaders to urge Israel to either release him or charge him in court. On Tuesday, Israel’s High Court rejected a petition demanding his release and an end to his administrative detention, a practice employed by Israel to hold political prisoners indefinitely without trial.
Dr. Bettina Birmans, a neurologist who volunteers at Physicians for Human Rights visited Awawdeh last Friday. In her opinion, which was submitted with the petition for his release, Birmans said that compared to summaries of previous tests Awawdeh has undergone, there has been a deterioration in his condition – he can barely move his limbs, is unable to complete sentences, suffers from weakness and pain throughout his body, and is experiencing deterioration of his eyesight, memory, and cognitive function.
Israel has provided few details about the accusations facing Awawdeh. An Israeli military spokesperson said last week his detention had been confirmed several times by military courts “and it was determined that the confidential material in his case indicates that his release will threaten the security of the area.”
Awawdeh was recently transferred from Ramle Prison to the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Israel due to his failing health.
Earlier this month, the Israeli military temporarily suspended the administrative detention order against Awawdeh because his condition was deteriorating. However, Israel’s High Court rejected an appeal to release him — the judges wrote that the court has no room to intervene in the decision to keep Awawdeh under arrest despite his condition.
A video showing Khalil Awawdeh and the toll his detention has taken on his body was shared on Monday, where he urged the world to stop Israel from detaining Palestinians without charge.
Awawdeh was detained on 27 December last year near Hebron in the southern West Bank [Getty]
The Israeli Supreme Court has rejected a second petition to release Khalil Awawdeh, a Palestinian prisoner detained without charge by Israeli forces, on the 171st day of his hunger strike to protest his administrative detention.
The Israeli government, judiciary and military continue to illegally practice administrative detention, according to rights group Adalah, and are consequently endangering Awawdah’s life.
Administrative detention is “incarceration without trial or charge, alleging that a person plans to commit a future offense,” according to B’TSelem’s website, a Jerusalem based human rights organisation.
The systematic violation of the most basic human rights of Palestinians amounts to crimes against humanity, which necessitate immediate international action.
— Adalah (@AdalahEnglish) August 30, 2022
“The systematic violation of the most basic human rights of Palestinians amounts to crimes against humanity, which necessitate immediate international action,” tweeted Adalah on Tuesday.
A video of Khalil Awawdeh was shared by the Samidoun Network on Twitter on Monday, showing the toll his detention and hunger strike has taken on his body.
#FreeKhalil Awawdeh, on hunger strike for 180 days resisting Zionist colonialism, has a message to the world, to take action to free the Palestinian prisoners and end administrative detention! pic.twitter.com/f8F36Kuq3I
— Samidoun Network (@SamidounPP) August 29, 2022
“Oh, free people of the world,” Awahdeh said in the video, “this suffering body, of which nothing remains but skin and bones, does not reflect a weakness and vulnerability of the Palestinian people, but rather is a mirror reflecting the true face of the occupation which claims to be a ‘democratic state’, at a time when it holds a prisoner without any charges in the brutal administrative detention, taking a stand against it, to say: No to administrative detention! No to administrative detention!”
“We are a people who have a just cause that will remain a just cause, and we will always stand against administrative detention, this injustice, even if the skin is gone, even if the bone deteriorates, even if the soul is gone,” he added.
Awawdeh was detained on 27 December last year near Hebron in the southern West Bank. He has since been abused by prison authorities, and subjected to solitary confinement.
Palestinian detainee Khalil Awawdeh
Geneva – Palestinian administrative detainee Khalil Awawdeh is suffering from an acute case of dyspnea and severe problems in all his vitals due to his continued hunger strike. His time is rapidly running out, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.
Awawdeh's health condition has become more critical than ever as he has been on hunger strike since 3 March (more than 170 days) in protest of the Israeli authorities’ refusal to release him.
The detainee emphasized that his continued detention, given his deteriorating health, means he is sentenced to a slow death.
Today, the Israeli Supreme Court will hear an appeal by Awawdeh's lawyer to release him, based on a medical report documenting his significant deterioration in recent days.
The wife of Awawdeh, who lies at the Israeli Assaf Harofeh hospital, told the Euro-Medi Monitor team that her husband has major breathing problems, a sharp drop in haemoglobin and blood sugar levels, and he is unable to speak, walk, or move his limbs. Moreover, he suffers from a significant decline in awareness and cognition and severe weight loss.
Following his arrest last year, an Israeli court issued a six-month administrative detention order against Awawdeh, which was later extended for another four months.
On 19 August, an Israeli court froze the administrative detention order against him but refused to release him, meaning he could be transferred from the hospital back to the prison if his health improves.
Khalil Awawdeh, 40, is from Idhna in the Hebron governorate in the southern West Bank. He has four daughters, the oldest of whom is nine years old and the youngest is one and a half.
Following a widely practised policy of administrative detention in the Palestinian territories, Israeli authorities arbitrarily confiscate the freedom of Palestinian civilians. As of August, the number of administrative detainees has surpassed 720.
Administrative detainees are held for months or years without indictment, and lawyers are frequently denied access to the evidence the court relies on for extending detention orders. The evidence is allegedly classified intelligence information, in blatant violation of fair trial guarantees and conditions.
Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Israel in 1991, prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention and states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, said, “The suffering of Palestinian detainee Khalil Awawdeh from severe breathing difficulties clearly indicates that his life could end at any moment, and warns of the need to take all possible measures to save his life as soon as possible.”
“It appears that the Israeli authorities are purposefully prolonging Awawdeh's suffering, even if it puts his life in danger, to thwart attempts to rebel against the policy of administrative detention and discourage Palestinian detainees from carrying out protests,” she added.
Olwan warned that if urgent steps to save Awawdeh's life are not taken, he will join the list of about 228 other Palestinians who have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, more than 70 of whom died as a result of health deterioration and the policy of medical neglect in prisons.
Israeli authorities must immediately release Palestinian detainee Khalil Awawdeh, end his administrative detention, and provide him with all necessary medical care in a manner that ensures his safety and eliminates the danger to his life.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention must actively pursue the issue of administrative detention in Palestinian territories, using all available means to pressure Israel to end this arbitrary policy.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor is a Geneva-based independent organization with regional offices across the MENA region and Europe
A protest in solidarity with Khalil Awawdeh, a Palestinian prisoner who is on hunger strike, 1 August 2022 [Mahmoud Nasser/ApaImages]
Photos of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh, who has been held in Israeli administrative detention without charges, went viral on social media yesterday, raising concerns about the deterioration of his health.
The pictures showed Awawda, 40, with a slender body resembling a skeleton as a result of his hunger strike, which has been ongoing for the 169th day successively.
Awawdeh is from the town of Ithna, west of Hebron. He has been on hunger strike for more than six months in protest against his administrative detention by the Israeli authorities.
Photos of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh, who has been held in Israeli administrative detention without charges, went viral on social media yesterday, raising concerns about the deterioration of his health [Al Watan]
Earlier this month, an Israeli court suspended Awawdeh’s detention to allow him to receive medical care, citing his failing health.
The Palestinian Prisoner’s Club said that the decision to freeze Awawdeh’s detention based on medical data and reports by the hospital indicate that his life is in danger. But if his health condition improves and he decides to leave the hospital, his administrative detention will resume immediately, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club added.
Park Features Israeli Settlements, Private Roads, Many Pieces, and 14 Bridges or Tunnels
60-Mile Gaza Tunnel will be a Construction Marvel
Twelve-year-old Mohammed Al-Najar was shot in his eye by Israeli soldiers [Getty]
Tareq Hajjaj and Pam Bailey, The New Arab — Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 20 December, 2019
- To date, Gaza's Ministry of Health reports that 50 protesters have been shot in the eye by Israeli soldiers since the demonstrations began last March leaving them permanently blind.
Media coverage and social media posts went wild when Palestinian photojournalist Muath Amarneh was blinded in his left eye after he was hit by a rubber bullet while covering a protest in the West Bank.
However, Amarneh was far from unique; Israeli snipers targeting participants in Gaza’s weekly Great Return March protests have aimed for the legs – and eyes. To date, Gaza’s Ministry of Health reports that 50 protesters have been shot in the eye since the demonstrations began March 30, 2018 – leaving them permanently blind.
“Some of these protesters and journalists were hit in the eye with teargas canisters, but most were targeted directly with what is commonly called a ‘rubber bullet,’ giving the impression they are somehow benign,” says Ashraf Alqedra, MD, a treating physician at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital and spokesperson for the Ministry of Health.
“But there is still steel at the core, and although these bullets don’t usually kill, they do grave damage. It is impossible to save an eye hit directly by a rubber-coated steel bullet.”
However, he adds, due to the Israeli blockade, there are no artificial, glass eyes in Gaza – only a cosmetic improvement, but one that can be a significant psychological aid. These are available only by travelling out of Gaza for treatment and permits for such journeys are often not granted.
According to data released by the World Health Organization, Gaza residents submitted 25,897 applications to travel via Erez Crossing to receive medical treatment in the West Bank or Israel; an average of 2,158 were submitted each month. However, the Israeli government only approved 61 percent.
Mai Abu Rwedah: the most recent victim
Mai Abu Rwedah, 20, grew up in north Gaza’s al-Bureij Refugee Camp in a family of nine children supported by a father who works as a janitor for a UN school. She just graduated from university, hoping to start her professional life as a medical secretary and contribute her income.
But that dream was dealt a severe blow December 6, when she became the most recent Gazan to lose an eye to an Israeli bullet.
Abu Rwedah believes in using peaceful, but active, resistance to reclaim Palestinians’ right to return to their ancestral homeland. So, she has joined participants in the Great Return March protest since its launch on March 30, 2018.
On September 21 of that year, she was shot by a rubber-coated bullet in one of her legs, but that didn’t stop her from participating; she kept on going.
|Doctors had to extract Mai’s right eye and the bullet damaged her jaw as well|
|A sit-in protest takes place in Gaza in solidarity with Mai|
Earlier this month, stood with a few friends about 100 metres from the fence that marks the border between Gaza and Israel. She glimpsed an Israeli soldier waving and pointing his finger to his eye.
“He was trying to intimidate me, but I was not afraid because I was doing nothing wrong. I wasn’t even throwing stones,” Abu Rwedeh recalls.
The soldiers fired tear gas then, and Mai and her friends ran away, but still were in sight of the young man who had threatened her.
“He was watching me; wherever I moved he kept watching. Then, suddenly, he raised his gun and pointed it at me. I was about to flee but he was too fast. He shot me in my eye.”
The bullet damaged her jaw as well. Doctors had to extract her right eye, since it was destroyed, Her determination, however, is intact. Abu Rwedeh continues to protest.
|He was watching me; wherever I moved he kept watching. Then, suddenly, he raised his gun and pointed it at me. I was about to flee but he was too fast. He shot me in my eye|
The youngest victim
Mohammed Al-Najar, 12, is the second-oldest son among four children, supported by a father who works in a wedding hall in Khan Younis.
In January, during the mid-year vacation from school, Mohammed begged his parents to allow him to watch the Friday protest with his cousins and other relatives, thinking it would give him an exciting story to share with classmates.
He was given permission to ride one of the government buses that collected people from the various neighbourhoods, taking them to the protest sites. When he disembarked, teargas bombs were flying, and he shouted to warn those around him. Then next one hit him directly in his right eye.
When Mohammad learned later that his eye could not be saved, he locked himself in his room and stopped going to school. When he did go back, he struggled.
“At first his marks at school dropped and he isolated himself. He tried to hide his missing eye,” says his mother, Um Edress.
She took to him an organisation that provided psychotherapy, but he refused to speak. Today, he is socialising, but goes quiet when asked about his injury.
|When Mohammad learned later that his eye could not be saved,
he locked himself in his room and stopped going to school [Getty]
According to Dr Alqedra, most people with eye injuries from the Great Return March are journalists or photographers.
One of them is Sami Musran 35, a photographer who works for Al-Aqsa TV. On July 19, he was shot several times – first in his hand, the next two times in his shoulders and the fourth time in the chest. (Fortunately, he was wearing a bulletproof vest, so it did not harm him.) The last time cost him his left eye.
Sami says he had received several calls from Israeli officers warning him not to take photos at the Great Return March. His mother also received calls, saying her son might be killed.
|Forty times, my Facebook account was hacked or deleted for me, and I received death threats as well|
“Forty times, my Facebook account was hacked or deleted for me, and I received death threats as well,” he says. “But I decided to keep on with my work to reveal the Israeli crimes against unarmed Palestinians who participate in the march.”
The night before Musran was shot, his wife tried to insist he stay home, but he refused.
“Minutes before I was hit, my mother called me twice, saying she was very worried about me. But I said that nothing happens that isn’t God’s plan,” he recalls.
He was about 250 metres away from of the Israeli fence when two women and a child were shot. Musran was taking photos of them and went in close. That’s when a rubber-coated bullet hit his eye and he lost consciousness. Two days later, he woke up in the intensive care unit to find out he had a skull fracture and an injured eye. The bullet had damaged the iris, retina and cornea and his vision was gone.
Today, it is hard for him to continue with his job; his depth perception is off, he gets headaches and the sight in his remaining eye “fades” at night. But he will keep trying.
“Israel wants to blind the eyes of the truth by sending messages to photographers saying we will hit your eyes to make you stop taking photos,” he says. “But we do not surrender.”
from Josie Shields-Stromsness, Middle East Children’s Alliance
maia bro for online
Contribute online at MECAforPeace.org/Madison
Anne Paq presented Intimate Portraits of Gaza’s Lost at the 2017 Madison-Rafah Rachel Corrie Commemoration. Based on the #ObliteratedFamilies project by Paq and Palestinian-Polish journalist Ala Qandil, the project profiled the annihilation of Gaza families during the Israeli bombardment in 2014.
Mahmoud Abu Arram, 72 (left) and his family stand in front of a renovated cave in the West Bank hamlet of Ar-Rakeez in the South Hebron Hills. (Photo: Activestills.org)
For weeks under the cloak of night Palestinians secretly renovated four caves and built a tin-roofed house in the West Bank hamlet of Ar-Rakeez where only a handful of residents live. Last week they opened the homes in a “bringing life back” ceremony.
The event was not announced in advance as to avoid any potential disruption by the Israeli army, locals said.
The caves were refurbished by Palestinians from the southern West Bank villages of Susiya, Masafer Yatta and At-Tuwani who are part of the Protection and Sumud Committee, a local group that seeks to prevent home demolitions, and with support from the Palestinian Authority.
Because of rigid Israeli planning restrictions and frequent settler harassment, most of Ar-Rakeez’s villagers moved to the nearby city of Yatta over the last 20 years. Four families said they will move into the fixed up caves, joining the three families who already live there.
Ayman Abu Arram, 40, said he will be one of the Palestinians coming back to Ar-Rakeez, “We left in 2004 because of settlers but we never completely left as we were coming from time to time to work on the land. We want to come back.”
“There is no land in Yatta and it is overcrowded. Life is better here, with clean air. I am not afraid of the army or settlers. I decided to come back with my family, and we will stay in the cave for now. We own it,” he said.
Mohammed Abu Arram, 51, who is originally from Ar-Rakeez said he wants to move back. He explained, up until the late 90s there were around nine families in the village. He also said many left due to ongoing “Israeli settler harassment.”
The South Hebron Hills has one of the highest rates of settler harassment in the West Bank. In 2017 the United Nations found 33 Palestinians were killed in violence attributed to settlers.
Ar-Rakeez is located in Area C of the West Bank, an Oslo-era delineation where the Israeli military maintains full security and civil control. For scale, around 60 percent of the West Bank is in Area C. Palestinians living in this region cannot build any permanent structures without an Israeli permit, which are rarely issued as figures indicate. Between 2010 and 2014 only 1.5 percent of Palestinian construction permits were approved in Area C. Last year, a mere five permits were issued.
As a result, many Palestinian houses in Area C are not connected to electrical or water lines, or sanitation services. Israeli forces have also declared some areas in the South Hebron Hills a “firing zone,” or a training ground for the military. With errant bullets from practice sessions and frequent mock raids, Palestinians read such designations as an attempt to expel them. Villagers from Ar-Rakeez said it was a quiet process of “a slow ethnic cleansing.”
Yet in recent years locals have developed a strategy to repopulate abandoned villages by renovating caves, a legal loophole that circumvents Israeli policies of demolishing homes constructed or upgraded without a permit.
During Wednesday’s event, Walid Assaf, head of the Commission for Resisting the Wall and Settlements said the efforts to repopulate Ar-Rakeez is part of a larger context of the Palestinian struggle, “It is the same battle in Al Mughayer, Al Khan Al Ahmar, Susiya and here,” adding, “it is about existence.”
In 2017, a local group of young organizers called the Youth of Sumud (sumud is the Arabic word for steadfastness) held the Sumud Freedom camp with the help of international Jewish activists on the site of Sarura, a Palestinian village in the West Bank whose villagers were evicted by Israeli forces in the 1980s and 1990s when the hamlet was converted into a military firing zone. When the protest camp was raided by Israeli forces, all of the temporary structures built by the activists were destroyed. Still, the group has maintained a presence in two caves in Sarura. One of them has a small kitchen, a stove, an outdoor toilet and running water. The group works during the night. This project has allowed some of the families to visit two to three times a week to work in their lands. It also creates hurtles for nearby settlements planning to expand.
Ali Awwad, 20, one of the young activists told Mondoweiss, “The people in Ar-Rakeez follow the model we started in Sarura, and for sure we will support them.”
“Israeli settlements keep expanding. We know that Israelis want to connect the outposts of Abigail and the Ma’on settlement, and we are here to stop the plan,” he said.
Since the Sarura protest camp was established two years ago, Awwad has lived there in a cave with other activists. Once a month he leaves to visit his family in the town of Tubas in the north of the West Bank. “Settlers and soldiers come every week to harass us. Just yesterday they destroyed 22 olive trees we just planted two weeks ago. I have already been arrested three or four times,” he said.
Sami, 21, another activist in the group, helped with the construction “secretly at nighttime so Israeli forces would not confiscate our tools and equipment as they did in the past in Sarura.”
Sami said he was attacked by settlers while at the freedom camp and his leg was fractured in two places. “We did shifts in the night in Sarura. The Israelis gave us a demolition order for the toilet, but they cannot say anything about the cave,” he said.
Ahmad Al-Bazz, born in 1993, is a multi-award winning journalist, photographer and documentary filmmaker based in the West Bank city of Nablus. Ahmad holds an MA degree in Television Studies from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, and a BA degree in Media and Mass Communication from An-Najah National University in Palestine. Since 2012, Ahmad has been a member of the Activestills documentary photography collective that operates in Palestine/Israel region.
Other posts by Ahmad Al-Bazz.
Anne Paq is an award-winning freelance photographer and videographer who had lived for more than a decade in Palestine. She has been a member of Activestills photo collective since 2006. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and published in various media outlets such as the NY Times Lens, Paris Match, le Nouvel Observateur, Stern, the Guardian. Her work includes documentation of the Palestinian refugees and popular resistance, the Israeli military offensive on Gaza (2012), subcultures and artists in Gaza. She has also led many participatory media projects in the the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. She has co-directed the short film “Bethlehem checkpoint, 4 am” (8’59, 2007), co-produced the award-winning documentary “Flying Paper” (52′, 2013) and co-directed “Return to Seifa” (2015, 10’49) and “Gaza: A Gaping Wound” (13’47). In 2014, she documented the Israeli military operation “Protective Edge” and its aftermath in the Gaza Strip. She is the co-author of the award-winning web documentary “Obliterated Families” which tells the story of the families whose lives were shattered by the 2014 Israeli offensive. In 2017, she won the International Photographer of the Year award, in the editorial documentary section.