The Hebron sub-district is home to 759,000 Palestinians and 17,562 settlers, and covers an area of 969,000 dunams. The settlers live in Kiryat Arba, in the Jewish settlements of Old Hebron and in about twenty settlements and outposts united in the Mount Hebron Regional Council. The countryside around Yatta is known as Masafar Yata (Yatta's daughter villages). The inhabitants of the villages subsist on sheep and agriculture. Agriculture is possible only in small plots, especially near stream channels. Most of the area is rocky and craggy.
Control Areas in the South Hebron Hills
The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into A, B, and C Areas. Except for a few communities recognized as Area A (controlled by the Palestinian Authority, mostly along road 60), the entire space is included in Area C under complete Israeli control (administrative and security control by Israel, with welfare, health and education provided by the PA). The Lands have been declared state land, and access roads are all within Area C.
Members of the southern group of MachsomWatch monitor and report on the goings on in Palestinian communities in the South and West Hebron Hills since 2004, and since then we tell the occupation narrative. Our reports provide ongoing documentation for years now of daily occurrences in the occupied area, most of which do not even approach the mass-media. Our monitoring and visits help create personal ties with the Palestinians and enable cooperation and an understanding on the part of Palestinians, that not all Israelis are settler-colonists, there are other Israelis as well. We have sometimes helped solve problems that are the consequence of a long, ongoing military occupation.
We began reporting checkpoints and blocked villages along road 60, between Beer Sheva (southern Israeli city) and Hebron, expanded to the city of Hebron itself, and later also began reporting the goings-on in this entire area, from Hursa in the west, Yatir in the south, Hashen Al Daraj in the east, and Shuyukh in the north. The area we cover is the South and West Hebron Hills and includes Palestinian communities as well as Israeli settlements and outposts. Over the years, our reports are also read by the ‘occupation authorities’ (responsible for everything in the checkpoints, army, Civil Administration) and have helped somewhat to improve conditions. We keep deliberating how to achieve the purposes of reporting without helping the occupation to become ‘easier’.
On the eve of Remembrance Day (the day before Israel Independence Day), the Israeli High Court decided on the transfer and expulsion of residents from 8 Palestinian communities in the area of Masafar Yata in the South Hebron Hills. Residents of the villages have been living under the threat of demolition, evacuation and expropriation since the IDF issued evacuation orders in 1999 based on the 1980's proclamation of their area of residence as a firing zone for IDF drills. None of the nearby settlements were included in this zone.The Masafer Yata Palestiniian villages retain a special lifestyle and ancient agricultural culture. They also posses a clear historical documentation that testifies to a Palestinian settlement in this area, generations before the establishment of Israel - long ago in the caves and in later times outside them.
Evacuating residents from the area means destroying these historic villages and leaving entire families (about 2,000 people, children, adults and the elderly) homeless. This is contrary to international law.
In June 2022, a firing drill has started, and life has become harder.
Since the 1980s, Israeli settlements have sprouted upon Palestinian land that used to serve Palestinian farmers, and in the past 20 years illegal outposts have been and still are being erected (See Talya Sasson’s report on illegal settler-colonist outposts), namely such that did not even get their sanction from Israeli authorities. Such outposts keep being erected along road 317, road 60 and inside Hebron itself, and get technical, engineering and security aid from the authorities and from the army. The settlements expand massively upon Palestinian lands, some even upon privately-owned Palestinian land. The going method at present is to create a ranch and wage a struggle with Palestinians over grazing grounds and farmland, especially olive groves.
Since the Oslo Accords, the policy of Israel’s government is an unceasing attempt to dispossess Palestinians living in Area C of their land, and impact their natural rights. The Civil Administration does not approve constructions plans, and thus the Palestinian population is denied its basic right to conduct its life in accordance with natural growth, to build dwellings and even vital public services such as clinics and schools.
The activity of the army and Civil Administration includes blocking access roads, repeated expulsions of Palestinians from their homes – demolishing houses, tents, shacks, outhouses, outdoor ovens, sheep pens and troughs, blocking water holes, preventing work in the fields, preventing grazing and uprooting trees. All this is done in order to exhaust the Palestinians, drive them to despair and move to the city where they will be unemployed and devoid of any means of survival.
The wondrous story of A-Tawani’s development
We began to visit and report on the cave village of Khirbat Tawani in 2004. Back then it was mostly caves and houses over caves, struggling to survive under the restraints of occupation and the threats of the Havat Maon settlers, who built their outpost right above this village. There was a small schoolhouse in the village, operated under harsh conditions, and there were no access roads nor electricity or a regular water supply. The inhabitants survived mostly on grazing sheep and goats, growing olive trees and working outside the village.
Road 317 was a road ‘not for Palestinians’, and the dirt track to the district urban center of Yatta was often blocked arbitrarily, by army decisions. Thanks to inner organization and a persistent holding-on to the ground, the villagers survive with their non-violent resistance to the occupation, against countless cases of harassment by the settlers and the Civil Administration. Thus they constitute a road sign to the surrounding Palestinian villages.
In spite of the army’s and the Civil Administration’s prohibition to clear the boulders that filled the yard, at last the school yard was developed in one week – the villagers blew up the boulders and used them to pave a road to the school.
The villagers paved an inner circular road, an act that was not permitted by the army and the Civil Administration for a long time. This road was developed to connect the village to road 317 that connects all the communities in the area.
Now the village has a clinic, an electricity grid has been installed and in past years even a kindergarten was opened.
The medical clinic of A-Tawani