Transcript for PeaceCast #213

Claire Miller 0:10
Hello and welcome back to PeaceCast, Americans for Peace Now's podcast. Today is Wednesday, November 24th. I am Claire Davidson Miller and with me is my colleague and co-host Ori Nir. Today we'll be talking to Ali Awad, a Palestinian activist and resident of Tuba, a village in Masafer Yatta, in the southern part of the West Bank, and Maya Rosen, an activist with All That's Left, an anti-occupation collective. Thank you, Ali and Maya, for being with us today.

Ali Awad 0:47
Thank you for hosting and organizing that.

Maya Rosen 0:49
Thank you so much.

Claire Miller 0:51
In the 1980s, the Israeli army designated part of Masafer Yatta, an area adjacent to the Palestinian town of Yatta, South of Hebron, which spans some 22 miles, a closed military zone. In fact, 18% of the West Bank is designated as such. Before we examine the problem, Ali or Maya, could you tell us a little bit more about the communities that live in this area? How many villages are we talking about and how many residents?

Ali Awad 1:26
So, like Masafer Yatta area that is designated by the Israeli army as firing zone 918, we are talking about 12 villages, including my village, Tuba. Now, there are like people there are living like the past and their livelihood on grazing the sheep husbandry of sheep and cultivating the land as a place where any kind of economic infrastructure is prohibited. This is the only way for the for those people to to be survived and to depend on their livelihood. The residents of the 12 villages nowadays are about 1300 people.

Claire Miller 2:09
Thank you. And can you also tell us a little bit more about what this designation means? What is the closed military zone? What is a firing zone for military training? And how does this impact the over 1000 residents?

Ali Awad 2:28
Okay, so I'm going to do like, since the 80s, since the beginning and since like starting this policies against those communities. So like for us as Palestinians Masafer Yatta, it started in 1981. Like at the meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the settlement affairs indicates that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained it like himself, who was the Minister of Agriculture at the time, proposed that land in the South Hebron Hills, which is the part of Masafer Yatta to be allocated to the Israeli Defense Force for live fire training. Sharon like explained that he wanted the military to use the land on account of the expansion of the Arab villagers from the hills.

And he added like we have an interest in expanding and enlarging the shooting zones there. In order to keep these areas which are so vital in our hands. Many additional areas for training could be added and we have a great interest in the army being in the place. So an IDF representative said in response, we would be very happy to have that. Later in the meeting, it was decided that the Agriculture Minister's Advisor for Settlement Affairs, would meet with the with the representative of that from the IDF and show them the places marked for additional shooting zones in between two quantities to keep the areas in our hands as the as they said, following the decision of declaring our homes as firing zone 918 which was like which was suggested by the Ariel Sharon in the ministerial meeting at 1981. So they declared like our homes as firing zone 918 So following that decision, my home village Tuba among 12 Palestinian hamlets located in the South Hebron Hills, southern edge of occupied West Bank in August and November 1999. The majority of inhabitants of the inhabitants of the 12 hamlets were served with evacuation orders due to their illegal dwelling in a firing zone as the state claim.

So my grandfather, who was born in Tuba 1942, he inherited our home and our homeland from his great grandfather, as the whole residents of the villages maintain our unique way of life, with many living in or beside caves, and relying on farming and husbandry of sheep and goats for their livelihood.

So like, in that year in 1999, I was just like one years old. I don't remember anything from the eviction, but my grandfather tells me a lot about it. And that year his extended family, which contains of nine sons and six daughters, two of whom were married at the time. My father, the second son, who had three sons, and my mom was pregnant with my fourth brother, and the oldest uncle who had a family of three sons and two daughters. The smallest was born during the eviction, beside hundreds of sheep, they all were evicted and thrown homeless out of Tuba.

So after like destroying our home in Tuba we moved, like in another place, three kilometers away from Tuba, and we settled there.

So my family life lived in a camp of tents until we could return to our caves in Tuba few months after the Israeli civil administration. That which is designated as the rest of administration is the arm of the army that manages the day to day lives of Palestinians under military occupation. Along with a bus of soldiers, they showed up at the alternative, families, community, and sheep. And they confiscated all again, beside water tanks, and even the food of the sheep and the people. They took everything in the trucks and left my family on that rainy day of March herding their flocks in the hills without any shelter or anything from life elements. We continued living like in this way until the petition that was received to the High Court of Justice in January and February of 2000, requesting an interim injunction that would allow us to go back to our homes and retrive our confiscated property was accepted by the judge. So even though we were allowed to return, we have lived under the threat of expulsion since then.

So today, until today, for two decades now we have not been allowed to build a new structure, or even fix existing ones. For 20 years until, until today, we have awaited the Israeli Supreme Court's final ruling, which could see us thrown out entirely.

Also, furthermore, because the villages are inn Area C they don't receive building permits and face regular home demolitions. In this area in the area of Masafer Yatta, the Palestinians are not allowed to build any kind of infrastructure, or to connect their villages to the most basic services such as electricity, and water. The people of Masafer Yatta tried to connect the villages to water pipes, but the Israeli civil administration, regularly destroyed them.

Ori Nir 8:36
Thanks, we'd really like to talk a little bit about what life is like today in this area. And one thing that occurred to me is, you're living in the midst of a military zone, meaning that there is military maneuvers going on, what is it like to live in a place where there's military exercises regularly?

Ali Awad 8:56
Yeah, so like, at the beginning, it was much, much worse. Even like in the other villages that is, where like next we're next to them, like Janba and al-Markaz and those like villages that are also located in the firing zone. They were like the army fields, like the shooting fields were just like a few 100 meters away from them. So the soldiers like I saw, I would miss them in my eyes like a shooting like to their goal like to the goals, hunting the goals, just like few 100 meters away from the children's homes. Some of the soldiers like were sometimes some commanders who have like a group of soldiers were raised in the village during during the night for, like for the exercises like to train the soldiers in how, how to search the houses under an execuse that the soldiers say that we lost something. And during the winter, getting all the family and the children out of the homes and started searching the houses. Besides, also like part of the season of the training for the soldiers, they bring tanks. So the tanks that just even this year that came and entered and passed through the village of Janba. And the tank pass over the roof of the cave, destroying the homes of the of the Palestinians. And the most like dangerous, which is also the bombs left over, just this year in January. In January, 2021 18 years old kid from the village of al-Markaz, Masafer Yatta, he was running behind his sheep just 100 meters away from his home. And while he's running behind his heard, he stepped on, bomb left, like a military leftover and it exploded on him. He was taken to the hospital and some of the, like the bombs caused, he lost his right hand and his knee was fractured. And he was almost dead because some of the pieces of the bomb settled millimeters away from the from the hearts and the stomach. Luckily, he was taken to the hospital before he was dead. So this is how does it look like for him for having your home as like firing a firing zone.

Claire Miller 11:43
Thank you for sharing that Ali and I'm sure our listeners as they already know, settlers also pose a very real threat to the everyday lives of Palestinians. You know, in the news here, even we saw how settlers stage just a violent pogrom on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. At the end of September, breaking windows smashing cars and sending a three year old child to the hospital with a fractured skull. I'm gonna ask both of you to talk a little bit about settler violence. Ali, would you want to start and tell us a little bit about how settler violence has impacted your village in your life?

Ali Awad 12:37
Yes, of course. Okay, so like, the most of like the main settlements that are established like in the hills of South Hebron Hills, like there is a chain of settlement on the hills that separate Masafer Yatta from the city of these settlements, they were just like a military bases after the Israeli army occupied West Bank in 1967. Like my father and my grandfather told me that at the beginning, they were just like military bases for the Army where the army Israeli Army in 1967 arrived and settled in with caravans. But at the beginning of 1980s patrons feel like the military bases to tourism rental neighborhoods, which is settlements in a clear light violation to international law. Israel has the intention of bringing Israeli people as settlers to live in a Palestinian lands in the occupied territories. So that time like the the nearest settlements, which is less than one kilometers away from my home village was established is the Settlement of Maon and the settlement expanded in the early 2000s. With the with the hub with the outpost of Havat Maon. Since then, like settlers have taken over a majority of our grazing and land belonging, which is belonging to Palestinian villages in the area, the army and the settlers like seem to be working in tandem to steal our resources. Soldiers take our land under the guise of security, only then to give it to settlers to establish agricultural outposts. Because like settler expansion and violence take place under the protection of the army and with legal support, whether it is a firing zone or by using the outdated Ottoman laws, to seize control of a huge swaths of land that are then declare the state land. So there is a full cooperation between the settlers and the military. Since that like how it affected me myself, like since the establishment or my family or my village since the establishment of Havat Maon, which as I said it was expanded from the settlement of my own the area between Tuba, my home, and the outputs took apart my own has been a regular site of harassment by settlers and the military. But like as the sheep and the land is our only livelihood we continued like to graze in the area despite all the harassment and violence and risk of arrest and injury. Yet at the beginning of the year, like this year in April, my own extended again with a new outpost which prevented us from accessing the whole fields where we regularly graze, also it was like established on on on the road that connect my village Tuba to the to the city of via that path is just like less than three kilometers which is 20 minutes from my home until 2002 we used to be working 10 minutes we will be in the city of Yatta. But after Havat Maon was established as a result of the settler violence, this that road it was also blocked. So from 2002 until today, the residents of Tuba have to make a detour of extra 20 kilometers to reach to the city. The city of Yatta is the address of the people of Tuba and Masafer Yatta for healthcare and food and water. Beside that that road it used like to lead to my school as in our area as a firing zone and area. See under those excuses. We are not even allowed to build any kind of infrastructure beside like health units or kindergartens. In our school we have in our village, we have none. So we have to go to the nearest that used to be the nearest village, which is the village of a-Tuwani. But after How about my own establishment between my home village Tuba and my school and a-Tuwani that road that lead and became inside how Havat Maon it became very dangerous to pass through.

That was in 2002. The last time one of us tried to use that road. It was my uncle, the settlers attacked him and they broke his tractor and injured him. From 2002 until 2004. The kids used like to like to make a detour around away from the outpost with extra ten kilometers climbing the hills at the morning and afternoon going and coming back to school. In 2004, a group of American volunteers from the Christian Peacemaker team decided to accompany the kids back from from the road through the outposts. But in September 2004, in at the beginning at the first week of the school most settlers put chains and sticks and attached the kids and the volunteers. So following that attack, and instead of for instance, this Havat Maon outpost it's also illegal in the in the Israeli in the Israeli law. So depending to the Israeli law this outpost was illegal. So, Israel didn't open investigation about like those criminals, masked guys who came out from the few cottages that settle and among the forests, or open an investigation for the attacks of the American citizens, or the six, seven years old kids who are going to school. So they end up in the child committee in the Knesset, they decided that military will ask for the kids at the morning and afternoon. So since 2004 until today, the kids at Tuba have to wait at the morning from their home site until an army and IDF patrol show up in the outpost to accompany them one kilometers from their road inside the outpost until their home. So that's like how it affected how like the settler violence effect affected me and until like for the livelihood of my family. I have like so many stories.

Ori Nir 19:39
Thanks, Ali. I'd like to bring Maya into the conversation. Thanks for your patience. Maya, I want to ask you a little bit about your role particularly in sort of serving as a buffer if you will, between the local Palestinians and the settlers. What what does your organization do actually to help the the the Palestinians in Masafer Yatta?

Maya Rosen 20:01
So I'm active with All That's Left anti-occupation collective, and also in a variety of other activist groups of Israelis and internationals based in a variety of places who are working together and in solidarity with people in Masafer Yatta with Ali and all sorts of other amazing activists down there. And we've been working together for years at this point. And it's been totally an honor and a privilege to get to know people and to get to know the communities. And also amazing to see, the longer we work together, the more that becomes possible. And specifically, this campaign, there's a major Supreme Court case coming up about the future of the firing zone, which is scheduled for March 15. So in just a few months, and we've been working together to think about how are we going to prepare ahead of what is going to be a what could have very strong implications in the ruling in this case?

Claire Miller 21:03
Could I ask a question actually, about that? So you mentioned that there's a Supreme Court case coming up in March. And Ali mentioned that, you know, the firing zone designation was made in the 80s. And the the first forcible removal of Palestinians from these villages was in 1999. So I guess my question is why now, why after 20 years, is this the year that the Supreme Court is looking to make sort of a final ruling on this land?

Maya Rosen 21:07
So there have been a series of hearings since essentially since 1990s. So the first evictions happened in 1999. And in 2000, residents were allowed to return until the Supreme Court reached a final decision, it was sort of an interim move. And that interim period has lasted over 20 years at this point, there have been a whole series of hearings over the last 20 years, which have all been inconclusive, there was an attempt at mediation that failed. Most recently, the Masafer Yatta Regional Council joined as a side in the case to be able to bring the perspective of the unique cultural and historical aspects of the of the region. And so that's one thing that's going to be discussed in this upcoming case. And any case could be the final case at this point. And so we don't know exactly what's going to happen in March, it could be that after March, there's going to be another hearing, it could be that the Supreme Court rules that operating a firing zone on occupied land is illegal. That's highly unlikely. But it's possible, it's possible that all residents will be forcibly evicted. I think that what's most likely, although, of course, we don't know is that the court will try to phrase whatever decision that comes to as some sort of compromise between the needs of the army and the needs of the residents. But what's important to keep in mind, and that is that the the Army's most recent proposals to the court have involved residents being forced to leave their homes for over half of the year, which makes living in the area, impossible for people who are dependent on agriculture and livestock, and does not actually permit any kind of life in the area. And so I think it's quite likely we're going to be sold a story of compromise. And it's important thing for us to keep in mind that any amount of forced transfer, even if it's partial is still forced transfer.

Ori Nir 23:40
One of the arguments that's been made by the state is that the residents of Masafer Yatta are not permanent residents in this area, because they're staying there is not it's not permanent. They're there only for certain seasons. Is that correct?

Maya Rosen 23:57
I think I mean, Ali, you're welcome to, I think you should say more about the actual lives of people in the firing zone. I'll just note that in the most recent Supreme Court hearing in in August of 2020, the judge explicitly said that it's possible to have a permanent residence in more than one place, and that that shouldn't be a relevant claim in the hearing. I think also, documents have now been submitted to the court that show that there have been Palestinian life in this area for much, much longer than the army is claiming. There's aerial photos from World War One. We have significant documentation from before the foundation of Israel, of Palestinian life in the area. And I think sort of the definitions on a broader level, the definitions that they're working with in terms of permanent residents and perennial are ones that don't aren't categories that may be appropriately matched the lives of people who have called this place home for many, many generations.

Ali Awad 24:49
Yeah, so as I said, like, my grandfather, and my he was born in tuba in 1942. And he inherited like our land from his a great grandfather. And on all this time like we are just living our only home is the village, this the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta, even though that our life was like more mobile at the beginning and before of the occupation, so but it was just like inside Masafer Yatta in different like Masafer Yatta, but it's about like fields that are cultivated for seasonal cultivation that people use for the lands. So they they are staying there for raising their sheep and cultivating their land. So it doesn't make sense that they have to leave their fields and go somewhere else, as their lifestyle is like the delivery stock and decreasing the sheep so Masafer Yatta, in the West Bank, for them, is the best place to stay. Their job is to graze the sheep. So it doesn't make sense that they have to take 1000s of sheep and goats and go inside the crowded city, they need an open space for their lifestyle. So all our life and since I was born in 1998, and I witness that we didn't move anywhere, except for Tuba. So we are like all the people and the residents. And I know like the other villages, residents, I know them personally. And they know the families that they belong to. So I never saw that scene that they have moved anywhere else. In whole my life. The people that I know that I grew up with, they are living either in Tuba, or an advocate or an images, or Hallowee or jimba, ordinary miracles. They never move to anywhere else.

Claire Miller 26:48
Just kind of one final question to start wrapping things up. As you probably can guess, most of our listeners are Americans. But they are also people who really want to do something, to promote peace and to work toward ending the occupation. So what can our listeners do to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta?

Maya Rosen 27:14
So one thing that Ali and other activists and I have all been working on together as a campaign called 'Save Masafer Yatta' and working against evictions and forced transfer in the area. And one of our main goals and one of the main things that we hope listeners can take from this is that Masafer Yatta does under immense threat and danger. And then it's a huge area of land with a tremendous number of people. And in the way that previous campaigns around Sheikh Jarrah, around Susiya, have been very successful in gaining gaining name recognition for those communities. One of the things that we're trying to do in this initial stage, is make sure that people who care about peace and justice in this land understand that Masafer Yatta is a huge piece of that. And we want that activists and organizations and American law makers when they think about what needs to be done in Israel-Palestine, they think about Masafer Yatta. So, one thing that that we've been working on recently, which is going to expand in all sorts of ways in the coming months is we worked together on a photo project where we worked with photographer Emily Glick to photograph residents of the firing zone and bring information about what their lives are like. And activists after that, in the middle of the night, put those posters up around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. And so people woke up in the morning and you know, saw dozens and dozens of faces of men and women and children old and young who could be facing eviction in the coming months. And you can see all of those portraits along with some photo essays, including an essay about Ali and also about Ali's grandparents at There's a form to sign up to get more involved in the campaign. And in the coming months we hope to reach out to both activist based here for ways to go down and meet the communities and be ready to join in if physical protective presence is necessary and also for people abroad in order to support in advocacy in fundraising for needs of the community and for the campaign. And we would really love for people to sign up share email addresses and we'll be in touch as campaign plans develop.

Ori Nir 29:43

Ali Awad 29:44
What I wish from the listeners who are gonna like have a look at the link of the campaign. I wish that the will like have a look at like the stories and the faces of the people and from Masafer Yatta to read like the story of my grandma, my grandfather and how their life used to be long before of the occupation came of, to Masafer Yatta in '67. So, what I wish also from the listeners that will achieve like the wish of my grandma because when she was seven years old, she used like to ride the donkey and to follow her brother's like 20 kilometers around Masafer Yatta and sleep with a sheep everywhere she wants safely and without any worries. But as she said, like in when we interviewed her that when I was seven years old, I was not really worried to move around the hills freely and safely. But her granddaughter when she was seven years old, just like 100 meters from the home, she sent a bottle of water to her uncle while he was grazing in the sheep, and a group of teenagers settlers chased her. And while she's running the hit her leg with a stone, and when she falls down on the dirt, they came and smash her head directly with other rock. So I hope that they will take an action into returning those people into their safe and peaceful life, people of Masafer Yatta but they are just like shepherds and farmers who really wish to have and to practice their normal life without any racist laws that intervene to evacuate them from their only homes. If those people will be evicted from Masafer Yatta they're gonna lose their everything. First of all, they have no other place to go, they will be homeless, they will lose their job because they cannot go anywhere with their job, their job is connected to their land. If they go out of their land, they're gonna lose also their livelihood. So I wish that people will take action and support them, to save them and to save their homes. And thanks to everyone.

Ori Nir 32:07
Thank you, Ali. And thank you, Maya, I want to thank you for joining us and the important things you said about the suffer yet it's a it's an issue that we have APN and are going to continue following and hopefully talk to you in the future to get an update about how things are going.

Ali Awad 32:23
Thank you so much for organizing.

Maya Rosen 32:24
Thank you very much