Children play at a school in Jinba
Children play at a school in the Palestinian village of Jinba. Photo by Amira Hass
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Alex Levac
A flock in the Palestinian village of Jinba. Photo by Alex Levac

Israel Defense Forces troops were dispatched twice on Sunday to remove roadblocks that were set up in an attempt to thwart access to four Palestinian villages in the southern Hebron Hills.

Residents of the villages discovered the roadblock around 10 A.M. Sunday, between a dirt path leading to the villages and an asphalt road leading to the illegal Israeli outpost of Mitzpeh Yair.

At 6 P.M., roughly three hours after an army bulldozer removed the barrier, a group of Israeli men wearing skullcaps replaced the roadblock using rocks and tires, as soldiers and police officers looked on. At around 8 P.M., the soldiers once again removed the roadblock -- this time with their bare hands.

Three of the villages that were blocked (Jinba, Al-Markaz and Halawa) are among eight villages inside Firing Zone 918, which the IDF intends to evacuate and demolish to make way for a live-fire training area. The High Court of Justice is expected to rule on the inhabitants’ petitions against the forcible evacuations in September.

The fourth village, Bir el-Eid, is closest to the Mitzpeh Yair outpost. When the roadblock was discovered Sunday morning, Bir el-Eid residents also noticed that the water cistern that provides drinking water for them and their flocks had been polluted and reeked of a foul odor. They believe vandals threw an animal carcass into the reservoir, which the army later confirmed to Haaretz.

Activists from Ta’ayush, an Arab-Jewish rights group, and Rabbis for Human Rights notified the army about the roadblocks. An army bulldozer arrived more than five hours later to reopen the path. Meanwhile, activists from the International Solidarity Movement who came to the village Sunday evening to record the residents’ testimony said they encountered a group of Israelis erecting a new roadblock of rocks and tires, in the same area connecting the dirt path to the asphalt road. (The Civil Administration has prohibited residents from paving the dirt path and even issued an injunction to stop work after residents began clearing the rocky ground.)

The activists saw a white civilian car whose passengers were uniformed and watched what went on without interfering. Afterward, an army jeep appeared; soldiers got out, approached the Israelis who were constructing the roadblock, shook their hands and spoke with them, while more Israeli civilians arrived (there were about a dozen in all). Then at 7 P.M., a police car appeared and the officers also spoke for about half an hour with the Israelis building the roadblock. Activists said they got the impression the police were negotiating with the Israelis.

At about 7:30 P.M., the Israelis left the path they had blocked and began walking toward Mitzpeh Yair, and the police officers left as well. When the Palestinians wanted to remove the roadblock on their own, the remaining soldiers stopped them, telling them the army bulldozer would arrive in about an hour and reopen the road. But the bulldozer never came, and the activists saw the soldiers removing the rocks and tires themselves.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed to Haaretz that the access path had been blocked twice and reopened by soldiers, and that an animal carcass had been found in Bir el-Eid’s water cistern.

Residents of Bir el-Eid have documented several incidents in which their water cisterns were polluted and their water pipes broken. In the early 2000s, the residents were forced to leave the caves where they lived because of traffic and construction restrictions and attacks by settlers. They returned after a legal battle backed by Rabbis for Human Rights and Ta’ayush.