Al-Mufaqarah is a Palestinian community located in the South Hebron Hills. Fifteen families live in this community, a total of 150 persons. They farm the land and graze sheep, just as their ancestors have been doing for more than 200 years.
Al-Mufaqarah is one of a dozen communities situated in the South Hebron Hills region, within a 7.5-acre Israeli military firing zone adjacent to the 1967 green line, the internationally-recognized armistice line between Israel and the occupied West Bank. Attempts to force the community out began at the end of the 1990s, even though the firing zone was established during the 1970s. The isolation and eviction of communities here indicate Israel’s plans to annex this region. Four Israeli settlements and “outposts” surround the village; all are illegal under international law. The villagers experience frequent settler violence.
Families of ten or more persons live in caves or in small mobile homes. Those that live in the mobile homes had their houses demolished last November by the Israeli military along with a cattle shed, a generator building and the village mosque. Despite official documents proving that residents own the land, many structures have pending demolition orders on them and the mobile homes have been subject to “stop work” orders which expired on 29 May.
Two women were arrested on 24 November 2011, when they attempted to save belongings from their homes as they were being demolished. The next day, a number of men from other communities in the area began rebuilding the mosque. The same solidarity and determination was seen on 19 May at the launch of a campaign by Palestine’s Popular Struggle Coordination Committee to support the community of al-Mufaqarah in its struggle to keep living on its land.
The residents of al-Mufaqarah have expressed their wish to live above ground rather below it. Therefore, the first of 15 houses, one for each family, was built last month, on 19 May. The campaign will continue and people will meet every week until all of the homes are completed.
“What if the military comes to destroy these houses?” I asked Hafez Huraini, coordinator of the popular committee in the South Hebron Hills.
“We are on our land, we will never give up,” he replied. “We believe that the soldiers will come and demolish these buildings but we will challenge that, we will build them again and again and again.”
If it wasn’t for the Israeli occupation, the few anthropologists who have come to this area say that the transition from caves to houses would have probably happened a decade ago. The occupation has stalled and even reversed the natural progression and modernization of many rural communities in Area C of the West Bank by forbidding inhabitants from building homes and by demolishing existing structures.
Al-Mufaqarah, like many villages in the South Hebron Hills, is in Area C, which was placed under full Israeli control by the Oslo accords (though supposedly on a temporary basis). Area C covers more than 60 percent of the West Bank; in this area, Palestinians have to request permits from Israeli authorities to build any structure, even tents and wells — and permits are almost never granted.
Many communities that in the last few years have benefited from solar panels and wind turbines have had these and other structures demolished. Havat Maon — a settlement “outpost” that is illegal even under Israeli law — by contrast enjoys easy access to electricity and water.
By defying pending demolition orders and a de facto prohibition on building Palestinian homes, the residents of al-Mufaqarah emphasize their right to remain on their land and to oppose Israeli policies of displacement.
Access to water reduced
Children walk the few kilometers to the village of al-Tuwani every day to go to school. Due to climate change and the demolition of water tanks, wells and cisterns, the amount of rain falling and being collected in al-Mufaqarah is declining. So Palestinians here are forced to buy water from Yatta, the only town in the South Hebron Hills. Making the 40-kilometer round trip on tractor several times a week is expensive and time-consuming. As well as life becoming harder for these communities, it is also becoming more costly.
Supporting people to remain on their land is therefore crucial. On 19 May, around a group of 100 — a mix of locals, Palestinians from popular committees around the West Bank, and international and Israeli activists — all worked together to build the first house in the village. The mood was one of celebration, cooperation and hope, not dented by a visit from Israeli soldiers and their constant background presence.
The purposes of this campaign are to repeat the success of al-Tuwani, a nearby village of 300 residents who, after nine years of campaigning, were connected to the Palestinian electrical grid in 2010, and to encourage other communities to start their own campaigns to stay on their land.
The campaign is “the initiative of the local people,” Mahmoud Zwahre, coordinator of the popular committee in the village al-Masara, announced in his 19 May speech. It is a grassroots effort supported by popular committees in Palestine and international volunteers. There is a strong call from popular committees for charities and volunteers to shift their focus from Area A — cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah, which are nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority — to Area C, to live alongside Palestinians who face severe oppression yet receive little support to continue resisting.
In al-Mufaqarah, the community is isolated geographically and technologically: after its generator building was demolished last November, an attempt to connect al-Mufaqarah to the grid was thwarted by Israel. When I asked a resident for her email address so as to pass on photos, she replied that she doesn’t have one because she is unable to access a computer. Isolation is another tool used by the Israeli authorities to try and prevent communities from telling others about their lives and their situation.
The call to action to support communities such as al-Mufaqarah in their struggle and to expose the land grabs, violence and oppression perpetrated by the Israeli military and settlers towards them, is urgent and must not be ignored.
To join in with the house building that will take place every Saturday in al-Mufaqarah until all 15 houses are completed contact Fadi Arouri at al.mufaqarah [AT] gmail [DOT] com. For more information about the campaign see http://almufaqarah.wordpress.com.
Lydia James has spent most of the past year working as a volunteer in the West Bank. She currently lives in Beit Sahour, beside Bethlehem.