South of Hebron, Kafka in the desert

South of Hebron, Kafka in the desert

A group of different NGOs visit Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta on Sunday.

A group of different NGOs visit Palestinian communities in Masafer Yatta on Sunday.

Every Tuesday, snapshots of Israel and Palestine, discovering the geographical and mental bubbles of a territory as small as it is disputed. Today a procession of diplomats in the hills of southern Hebron. Thousands of Palestinian shepherds threatened with expulsion have built their humble villages there. The Israeli army sees it only as a firing range to be evacuated.

In the Martian landscape of the hills of southern Hebron (West Bank), the procession of armored 4x4s, small flags in the wind, hiccups on the stony bends, shrouded in a white cloud of dust. In the thirty gleaming SUVs, consuls and other mainly European heads of missions, foreign journalists and the who’s who human rights defenders in the occupied territories.

On this Monday morning, the diplomatic cavalcade crosses this desert expanse, called Masafer Yatta in Arabic, where a dozen small villages of Palestinian shepherds are scattered, living in rudimentary huts or small caves. But for the Israeli army, these thousands of hectares have another name: “Range 918”.

From north to south of the West Bank, the IDF has designated thousands of hectares under this name, where it organizes maneuvers and prepares the wars to come. The day before, Israel was holding helicopter training here, in these regions where the roar of the F16 fighters from the Negev no longer makes heads look up. But for observers of the conflict, it is also a legal pretext to declare entire sections of territories uninhabitable, «zone tampons» to empty their more or less nomadic inhabitants. As for Masafer Yatta, the then Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, himself admitted as early as the 1980s: it was above all a question of preventing “Arab shepherds do not spread”.


In 1999, the army decided to expel some 700 inhabitants from its “shooting range”. From recourse to appeals, moreover to postponements, the case drags on. The villagers are holding on. More than two decades later, the Supreme Court must rule definitively by next summer. The judges have reportedly already presented a “compromise” à la Solomon to the shepherds and their families, now more than a thousand: live there the few months of the year when the army does not duck. The rest of the time, just do it yourself.

The caravan stops at the village of Khirbet Al-Majaz and its small prefabricated school financed by the European Union. The diplomats with their starry blue masks and their shoes mingle with the activists in sandals. The fehalis (Sedentary “peasants”), cheeks raspy and rolled in their beaks, gaze without flinching at the crowd from the back of their Japanese pick-ups dating from Methuselah. Schoolchildren in uniform flutter before entering a jeep serving as a school bus. The surrounding hills are as if sprinkled with mobile homes: the outposts of Israeli settlers.

“Preventing these expulsions is already the struggle of a generation”, ton Hagaï El-Ad, director B’Tselem, in front of the assembly. He talks about “cynicism” Israeli, from “shooting range” as a tactic for “Move populations”, technically a war crime. In front of the twenty or so officials, he takes a date, giving the visit an air of a vigil of arms before yet another diplomatic-humanitarian standoff: “We took your predecessors here and elsewhere. Each zone has its legal excuse. “ Two years ago, their mobilization had stopped the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, at the exit of Jerusalem. “This place is your Khan el-Ahmar!”, he adds, before attacking Israeli-Arab peace accords, ratified these days. “The peace Netanyahu talks about is flying in business class to Dubai while pretending that these people you see around you don’t exist”.


Local officials praise the importance of Europeans. Without them, no solar panels, no water, no shelter. They lament the weekly confiscations: tanks, pipes, vehicles. For the diplos, it is the conflict in its most micro, most everyday aspect. And for the EU, which is said here so soft, so helpless, this classroom, these toilets, these are small battles that can still be won. With his chiseled aristocratic head, Sven Kühb Von Burgsdorff, the head of the European delegation, assumes: “All of this should be done by Israel, as the occupying power. It is their responsibility. But since they don’t take it… ” In one corner, the French consul is more discreet.

The inhabitants watch this crowd from a distance in shirtsleeves and surgical masks. Some let themselves be proudly photographed, others hide their faces. We show the caves where the mattresses are piled up, the traditional oven where bread is baked in the same way as a thousand years ago. The most absolute hardiness and destitution.

The cars leave. In Fahiz, another tiny village on the “shooting range”, army bulldozers came the day before at dawn to destroy a brick pit and a barn. “Our pigeons are dead”, sighs a resident. The owner of the little house expected this. Akram Abou Sabha had received the demolition order this summer. A German journalist pouted: “But you didn’t apply for a building permit, did you?”. Keffiyeh on his head, belly forward, the fifty-something shrugs his shoulders: “What’s the point? They never give it away. My family lived here before their country existed. They are the “illegals”, not me. “ The Hebrew state billed him for the demolition 10,000 dollars, he assures us. He won’t pay. So much effort, so much paperwork to raze a dovecote, it’s hard to understand. Abu Sabha gives his explanation: “If you’re a [colon] Jewish, we asphalt a road, we install water for you. If you’re Palestinian, there you go. ” The rubble speaks for itself. The girls’ school, at the entrance to the village, is also threatened. “But our lawyer works hard to avoid that”, assures Nidal Younès, the representative of Masafer Yatta. Kafka in the sand.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here