Mobile homes for an illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) got the go-ahead within a week of Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes and property in the area. It emerged last Wednesday (26 March) that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has approved the transfer of five mobile homes to the Israeli settlement of Teneh Omarim in the region.
Only the week before, Israeli army bulldozers demolished nine homes and two livestock enclosures in several Palestinian villages in the southern occupied West Bank. The demolitions were carried out on 19 March in the hamlets of Qawawis, Imneizil, al-Dairat and Umm Lasafa in the South Hebron Hills.
Those whose homes were demolished included families with children. In the villages of al-Dairat and Umm Lasafa, the Israeli army destroyed the homes of brothers Yasser and Jihad Mohammed al-'Adra, and Ismail al-'Adra. As a result, Yasser al-'Adra, his wife and six children, Jihad al-'Adra, his wife and their five children, and Ismail al-'Adra, his wife and their three children, were left homeless.
Expansion of Teneh Omarim and other illegal settlements in the OPT continues, in violation of international law that forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into the territory that it occupies.
The Israeli settlements include neat, modern houses with electricity and water distribution systems. Palestinians have lived in the area for generations but none of their hamlets in the area are "recognized" by the Israeli authorities. This means they do not receive any services – light, water, sewage, education or health – and the homes and other structures may be demolished at any time.
Palestinian villagers are also prohibited for the most part from building new homes or building rain water harvesting cisterns to cater for a growing population or to assist development. No new structures can be built unless permits have first been obtained from the Israeli army, but such permits are invariably refused.
The South Hebron Hills, or Masafer Yatta as it is known to Palestinians, is an area in the southernmost area of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Apart from small stone-built villages in the west of the area, many of the people live in tents and large caves.
Most of the Palestinians in the area are shepherds, but, in recent years, the scarcity of rain water has reduced the availability of grazing land for their flocks and their ability to cultivate their land. In addition, the frequent attacks by Israeli settlers and the increased restrictions imposed by the Israeli army on their movements have further reduced their access to grazing land and their ability to cultivate their land.
Israeli settlers, in contrast, have been allowed to appropriate more and more land. Palestinians have lived in the area since long before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, though some Palestinians moved to the area when they were forced to leave their lands further south in 1948.
When Palestinian homes are demolished, other means of livelihood such as animal pens are also destroyed. Currently, the mosque in the village of al-Tuwani is under a demolition order, as is a schoolroom in the remote village of Dqaiqa.
Palestinian villagers are frequently harassed by Israeli settlers and Palestinian shepherds fear to graze their flocks near Israeli settlements.
International volunteers from the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and Operation Dove have had a presence in al-Tuwani, the largest village in the area, since 2004 in order to help protect the villagers and to record acts of violence and harassment against them. Israeli peace activists also visit frequently.
During March 2008, at least six attacks on Palestinian shepherds by Israeli settlers or police were reported, with violence and threats of arrest being used against the shepherds to force them to move them away from what they were told was a "closed military zone".
Following many settler attacks on Palestinian children going to school and their international escorts, the Israeli army now sends a military jeep to escort the schoolchildren. Sometimes, however, this escort arrives too late or fails to deter attacks.
On 19 March 2008, for example, two international observers were attacked by Israeli settlers while they were attempting to monitor the military escort of Palestinian schoolchildren. On 29 March, settlers were reported to have thrown stones at children making their way to school but the military escort failed to intervene.
Amnesty International is urging the Israeli authorities to cease demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories, cancel all demolition orders and take steps to prevent and punish settler attacks on Palestinians and on international observers seeking to protect them. The organisation is calling also for an immediate end to the construction or expansion of Israeli settlements in breach of international humanitarian law.