Popular Struggle Coordination Committee: Brick by Brick. Building Permanent Structures to Fight Displacement in the South Hebron Hills
Residents of the village of al-Mufaqara will defy pending demolition orders and the prohibition to build by erecting the first permanent structure.
This Saturday at 3 PM, residents of the South Hebron Hills village of al-Mufaqara, together with their supporters from across the West Bank, as well as Israeli and international supporters, will hold a festival of resistance to the Israeli policy of house demolitions and the complete prohibition of construction in the community. The festival’s participants will lay the cornerstone for a mosque, which is to be the first permanent structure in the village.
Over 40% of the West Bank is under Israeli occupation: settlements and their subsidiary infrastructures such as settler bypass roads, the Apartheid Wall, checkpoints and military bases have led to the expropriation of thousands of dunums of Palestinian land, chocking the Palestinians in dire conditions. In 2005, while Israel evacuated its 8,200 settlers from the Gaza Strip, its settler population in the West Bank increased by some 12,000. And the problem of impunity enjoyed by extremist settlers, often benefiting from the leniency of the police and the Israeli army, is recurring. Al Mufaqara is one of a dozen communities situated in South Hebron Hills, in an area designated as a so called Firing Zone adjacent to the Green Line. Its residents, gathered in around 16 family units, are permanently living in caves and shacks, living off their farming and grazing, just as their ancestors did. The twelve villages of the area are surrounded by 4 settlements; Karmel and Ma’on at north; Suseya and Mezadot Yehuda on the west side. The 7.500 acre firing zone was proclaimed during the 1970’, but no enforcement of the firing zone has been taken since the end of the 90s. On 5th October 1999, just a week after the first dismantlement of Havat Ma’on, the residents of all the communities in the Firing Zone area except al Mufaqara received an evacuation order. Al- Mufaqara inhabitants were warned only on the 15th of November, just 24 hours before Israeli soldiers arrived. The next day the Israeli army destroyed the tents, sealed the caves, dispersed the flocks and evacuated the residents to the other side of road 317. Some of them took refuge in tents in the village of al-Tuwani. The cave dwellers appealed to the Supreme Court that six months later allowed them to go back since the decision on the area had not reach a final status. Six years ago, Israeli authorities built an 80 cm wall along road 317, creating a de facto divide and cutting any connection between the village of al- Tuwani, the people living in the closed area and the vital city of Yatta. A petition was filed to Israeli Hight Court, which ruled the wall should be dismantled. The forced displacement of people and the construction of the wall testify to Israeli’s attempts to empty and isolate the region from the rest of the area in order to annex it. Residents are also exposed to settlers attacks that began systematically after the foundation of Havat Ma’on. Nowadays, the community of al Mufaqara still face several problems. People live in caves and tents, without electricity and running water, in a constant state of uncertainty. Authorizations to build are systematically denied and most of the structures of the villages have pending demolition orders, despite the existence of official documents proving the inhabitants property of the land. On 24th November 2011, Israeli army demolished the mosque, two houses, a cattle shed, the generator building and arrested two girls. The next day men from all the area came to pray in the village and started working at the rebuilding of the mosque, showing great solidarity and their strong willing to preserve their land. After this episode the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) with funds from the Humanitarian Relief Fund (HRF), managed by UN and OCHA, delivered three mobile houses, which do not constitute a housing solution in keeping with the traditions of the inhabitants. Also, all these houses have recently received a ‘stop-working’ order expiring on the 29th of May 2012.
The al-Mufaqara Project
The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) is launching a campaign to support the community of al Mufaqara in their legitimate struggle to keep living on their land. The campaign will do this through the construction of brick houses in order to stress the permanent character of their presence in the area and opposed Israeli state policies of displacement. The PSCC will also provide legal support and a long term monitoring of the situation. The purpose is to repeat the successful story of al-Tuwani, a village of 300 residents that faced the same situation but is now recognized by the Israeli Occupation Authority, and to create a precedent for the communities in the firing zone. Defying the pending demolition orders and the prohibition to build is a way to stress the legitimate right of South Hebron Hills residents to remain steadfast on their land. The PSCC calls for international and Israeli activists to support the action that, through non violent action, legal strategies and support, aims at the construction of permanent houses in the area.