Demographic Wars

by NEVE GORDON

On the southern tip of the West Bank, situated on the slope of a mountain, there is a small village of Palestinian cave-dwellers. Its name is Jinba, and it is home to roughly three hundred inhabitants. A visitor might see the sheep grazing on a nearby hill and a tractor plowing the fields. An idyllic scene, especially following the rainy season, when the desert has turned green.

But here too, the ostensible tranquility is little more than an illusion. Not unlike other cave-dweller villages in the Mount Hebron region, life in Jinba has become unbearable, and the small rural community is now on the verge of being annihilated.

A few hundred meters south of Jinba the Israeli military set up a training camp and confiscated acres and acres of agricultural land which had previously belonged to the inhabitants. Armored vehicles and jeeps travel unrestricted even on fields adjacent to the village which the military has not expropriated, and thus destroy crops and frighten young children.

A few hundred meters to the north, along the mountain ridge, a series of Jewish settlements and outposts have been constructed. The settlers threaten any Palestinian who climbs the mountain slope, thus preventing the residents of Jinba from plowing their northern fields and grazing their sheep. In addition, these settlers have also blocked the path between Jinba and Yatta, the major town in the region where the cave-dwellers buy basic foods and obtain medical services.

Hence, the military and settlers have successfully restricted Jinba’s residents to a miniscule piece of land which barely suffices to sustain the population. The inhabitants have been confined to a desert island of sorts, and in many ways their lives are now similar to the lives of thousands of Palestinians who are trapped between the separation barrier — a complex series of trenches, roads, and fences — and the Green Line, the pre-1967 border; it is extremely difficult for them to travel into the West Bank and impossible to enter Israel. Their movement has been severely restricted, and they have, in a sense, been imprisoned.

Two months ago, the cave-dwellers suffered yet another blow. On January 15, a small plane sprayed some of the fields the villagers still had access to, destroying the crops that had been planted just a few weeks earlier with chemicals. What could not be carried out from the ground was accomplished from the air.

To the inhabitants of Jinba the message was clear: You will not continue living on this land for long.

The method is to destroy the infrastructure of existence so that the inhabitants will leave their land "of their own volition." In Hebrew it’s called "transfer".

But who is behind this sinister plot?

On February 4, Ta’ayush activists (Jewish-Arab Partnership), together with an attorney from the Association for Civil Rights and a fieldworker from Physicians for Human Rights, visited Jinba. While they were there, the attorney made a phone call to the Hebron police, asking them to look into a complaint involving settler harassment of Palestinians. Little did she know what was to ensue.

Four nights later, at about 3 am, three cars arrived in Jinba. The visitors seemed to be security officers from the nearby settlements. They woke the cave-dwellers, separating the men and women. Children were screaming and the elderly crying, but the armed men were unimpressed. They took the Palestinian men aside and threatened them.

"Don’t you dare walk in the direction of Mitzpeh Yair (an illegal outpost), and don’t come near Bir El-Ad (the route to the regional capital Yatta)," the settlers shouted, thus reducing even further the villagers’ living space.

Before leaving, the settlers threatened that if the villagers were again to cooperate with lawyers or with Ta’ayush activists, their lives would be turned into hell.

The settlers cannot directly prevent Israeli activists from visiting the cave-dwellers so instead they terrorize the local Palestinians. Their threat is also directed at the peace activists: Every time you come to gather evidence, we shall make the lives of the locals more miserable. This is a paradigmatic example of how settlers try to torpedo the work of Israelis who are struggling to protect the basic rights of the indigenous population.

The well-orchestrated plot to embitter the lives of Jinba’s inhabitants indicates that in the Mount Hebron region the breakers of the law work in concert with those who are paid to protect it: an unholy alliance has been established between the settlers, on the one hand, and the military and police on the other. Who told the settlers that a lawyer had visited Jinba? Who sprayed the fields? And who has allowed the soldiers to trample and destroy crops with their armored vehicles?

The enormity of the danger facing the cave-dwellers becomes even clearer when one takes into account the rapid construction of the so-called separation barrier. According to the maps published by the Israeli government, the barrier will pass north of the cave dwellers’ villages. Thus, like the villages in the north, they too will be stuck between the barrier and the Green Line.

The ongoing harassment of the cave-dwellers as well as the attempt to undermine their infrastructure of existence should accordingly be considered as part of a war of attrition. By the time the separation barrier is erected in this region, the inhabitants’ hold on the land will be very fragile. It will, therefore, be relatively easy to uproot and expel them from their homes so that the land can be annexed without Palestinians.

The situation in South Hebron is but a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at large, which the current Israeli government conceives as a demographic war: it wishes to grab as much land as it can without upsetting the Jewish majority within the State. In Hebrew, as mentioned, this kind of scheme is called "transfer."

NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and can be reached at neve_gordon@yahoo.com

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