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BREAKING THE SILENCE
Soldiers' Testimonies from the South Hebron Hills
"In the South Hebron Hills, it was mostly about physical assaults. There’s real violence out there, sometimes we concentrate more on the city, too much, but a settler brutalizing a shepherd - that’s a classic in the South Hebron Hills, it happens there on a daily basis. Poisoning wells, that happens out there plenty. There was this story of some settlers throwing dead chickens into the Palestinians’ well. It was Saturday. The Palestinians summoned us, we came... There was nothing to do. We brought them water tanks."
Breaking the Silence Soldiers' Testimonies from the South Hebron Hills
This booklet contains sixty testimonies of both male and female combatants who served in the South Hebron Hills between 2000 and 2008, casting light on the direct outcomes of the military rule over the Palestinian population in the area, and the indirect effects on Israeli society. Breaking the Silence has been active in the South Hebron Hills for a number of years, primarily in the context of offering tours of the region to the general public. This booklet is intended to serve not only as a supplement for participants on our tours, but is also intended to contribute to the overall understanding of the nature and implications of the military control over the South Hebron Hills. Moreover, this booklet constitutes an additional aspect of the work of Breaking the Silence in endeavoring to increase awareness of the reality in the West Bank amongst the Israeli public.
About the South Hebron Hills
The South Hebron Hills region is primarily rural. Most of the Palestinians who live in the region are concentrated in the town of Yatta (approximately 50,000 residents) and in a number of other large towns, with the remaining population living in small villages and encampments spread out over a vast territory. The town of Yatta is under the control of the Palestinian Authority (Area A), and thus friction between the residents of Yatta and the Israeli army finds expression mainly at the town's borders, and in focused military operations inside the town. The vast rural territory surrounding Yatta is under direct Israeli control (Area C), effectively placing the IDF in command of all aspects of the lives of residents in the area. A considerable portion of the Palestinian population living in the South Hebron Hills is poor, and they support themselves through agriculture and shepherding of flocks. For years, a portion of the residents lived in caves until many of them were destroyed by the IDF, and today, these former cave-dwellers reside in tents. A portion of the residents are refugees who arrived in the area over the course of 1948 and throughout the fifties from territory that is now part of Israel. These segments, along with the many Palestinian families who have been in the territory for hundreds of years, make up the population of the South Hebron Hills.
Given the fact that they live under the direct jurisdiction of Israeli authorities, Palestinian residents are dependent on these authorities in conducting all aspects of their lives. However, various requirements of their way of life, including the most basic necessities, have been left unaddressed for many years. For example, access to water has become a daily challenge to Palestinian villagers and shepherds, and in the absence of a permanent solution, the residents rely primarily upon water cisterns which gather rain water. Many villages are not connected to the electricity grid, nor to other basic infrastructures. These villages are in constant struggle with the authorities of the Israeli security apparatus regarding their legal rights to the land and its resources (these issues often involve residents whose relatives lived on this same land for many years before the establishment of an Israeli presence in the area). Many highways connecting the villages to Yatta have been blocked in recent years on the grounds of security purposes. Moreover, in recent decades, many settlements have been established directly adjacent to and near these villages, where residents enjoy all the rights that have been denied to the Palestinians in the region (water access, electricity, building permits, etc.).
Over the years, and especially since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, many Palestinian residents whose lives had become intolerable, simply left their villages and settled in the town of Yatta. The extreme inequality between the Jewish settlers who live comfortably and the Palestinians who live in extreme levels of poverty and underdevelopment results in Palestinians perceiving the rural areas of the South Hebron Hills as a region where they are unwanted. Beyond the harsh humanitarian implications of this process, in the wider political context, the South Hebron Hills is gradually transforming into Israeli territory in every respect: The town of Yatta is becoming the sole Palestinian enclave as the number of Palestinians living in the surrounding areas dwindles, and Israeli settlers reside in their stead.
The Testimonies in this Booklet
The testimonies contained in this booklet relate to the various facets of the interactions between IDF soldiers, residents of the settlements, and the Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills. Testimonies are told from the view of the soldier on the ground in the context of military rule in the South Hebron Hills. The testimonies relate to the array of issues which surface on a daily basis in this region: soldiers coping with restrictions on the movement of Palestinian residents, expulsion of Palestinians from their agricultural lands, confiscation of their property, the use of violence against bound detainees, passivity and selective law enforcement by the Israeli police in the area, operation of checkpoints, the arbitrary nature of on-the-ground policy determination, settler violence, etc. The testimonies describe events that occurred between 2000 and 2008, and they represent a wide cross section of units that served in the South Hebron Hills during this period. Despite this breadth, sixty testimonies alone cannot provide a comprehensive picture of all that occurs in such a large area over a period of many years. The tours in the field offered by Breaking the Silence contextualize the various testimonies by locating them in the time and place in which they occurred.
Despite the unique characteristics of this area, familiarity with the situation in the South Hebron Hills can teach us a great deal about IDF conduct and mechanisms employed by Israel all over the West Bank. We believe that familiarity with this information is necessary when evaluating the political and social realities in the region, and when making decisions on the future of Israel's presence in the Occupied Territories.
For further information, or to coordinate lectures or guided tours, visit our website, www.breakingthesilence.org.il, or contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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