Where measuring your own land is against the law
Bu NEVE GORDON
With five Taayush activists -- members of the movement for Arab-Israeli partnership -- I traveled recently to the South Hebron region to visit the Al-Nuagah family. The Israeli military and civil administration had evicted these Palestinians from their land a few months earlier in a well-orchestrated campaign.
The expulsion was executed without forewarning, and the destruction was systematic in comparison to previous destruction in the area. Living caves, which in the past had been sealed off, were demolished. Bulldozers also blocked many water wells and ruined crops. Livestock were killed and property left in shambles. All this in order to dissuade the population from returning.
The military prevented the Red Cross from providing basic humanitarian aid such as food, blankets and tents. Only after a Supreme Court injunction were the residents allowed to return.
The goal of our visit was to help the Al-Nuagah family measure their land, so that their lawyer, Shlomo Laker, will be able to provide accurate information when the Supreme Court reconvenes. To help actually means to defend, since the Jewish settlers and military have hampered previous attempts to accomplish this ostensibly simple objective.
Al-Nuagahs land borders the Jewish settlement Susya. Founded in 1982, the settlement consists of houses with lawns, a synagogue, playgrounds and a community center. The Palestinian residents, whose land was expropriated to build the settlement, do not have electricity, running water or a paved road leading to their desert home.
In order to measure the land, one must walk alongside Al-Nuagahs uprooted fence with a measurement pole, while the land engineer calculates the distance from a hill located in the center of the property. Together with Muhammad Al-Nuagah, the familys representative, three Taayush members went toward the settlement, stopping every few yards with the pole so that the engineer could compute the distance.
About a hundred yards from the settlement a soldier came toward us. What are you doing here without weapons? he asked, surprised to see us unarmed. Arent you afraid that the Arabs will murder you?
The fact that Muhammad Al-Nuagah was standing by my side did not challenge, even for a moment, this soldiers worldview. We decided not to respond and continued our work, but the soldier called the settlements security officer, who summoned a few more settlers.
Are you an Arab? one of the settlers approached Muhammad. Get out of here! And then to me: Are you my brother, or his brother?
The settlers then called a group of reservist soldiers. Their sole mission, as was made clear by their actions, was to expel Muhammad from the area. What are you doing here? a soldier asked as he took Muhammads identity card. Arabs are not allowed to be here, he continued in a threatening voice, as he pointed to the ground, that is, to Muhammads land.
We were permitted to continue measuring the property only after Muhammad, its owner, had left the area. Later, when we were about a kilometer from the settlement, one of the Palestinian measurers joined us. Soon the military jeep arrived, and again the Palestinians identity card was taken. This time the soldiers heeded our request to call the police.
The police, however, decided to take our identity cards as well. While they were checking our personal records via radio, they summoned the civil administration, who in the words of the police commander are the sovereign, and only they have the authority to decide whether you can continue measuring the land.
We waited about half an hour, but no one from the civil administration arrived. It was already late, and the Palestinians were in a hurry to begin their prayer and break the Ramadan fast. Meanwhile, the police returned our identity cards, and so after a brief consultation, we decided to go home despite the fact that the work had not been completed.
As we entered our cars, the white civil administration jeep cruised by. I stepped out of the car and went to the officer in charge, who immediately notified me that, according to the Supreme Court injunction, no work could be carried out on the property, and that measuring, in his opinion, was work.
Measuring the land is against the law? I asked. Yes, the officer explained, as he informed me that he intended to file a complaint against us.
This brief visit illustrates how alongside the dramatic expulsions carried out in order to annex the area to Israel proper, there is the daily, yet all the more insidious, categorical refusal to let a person visit his or her own land, to walk on it, to measure it, even in preparation for an upcoming trial. It also corroborated Taayushs suspicion that the civil administration, military and police are not only working hand in hand with the settlers who are against the peace process, but are taking orders from them.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel.
National Catholic Reporter, December 28, 2001