Residents of Zanuta are in danger of losing their homes to Israeli policies.
Residents of Zanuta are in danger of losing their homes to Israeli policies. Photo by Jamila Biso, ACRI
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Today, Supreme Court Justices Edna Arbel, Hanan Melcer and Noam Sohlberg will hold in their hands a ticking time bomb. Or should I say: One more of the time bombs that are ticking amongst the dozens of Palestinian communities all over the West Bank, and which are occasionally handed to the High Court of Justice.

This time it is Zanuta, a Palestinian village in the southern West Bank. The craftsman, as usual, is the Civil Administration, which assembles time bombs inspired by higher authorities (the government, army, the Jewish public's yearning for real estate and ancient landscapes ). The diligent apprentice is Regavim, a nonprofit organization whose objective is to protect what it calls national (Jewish ) land and to demolish Palestinian structures that were built without a permit. The organization, which calls itself apolitical, has asked to join the case as an amicus curiae, a party unrelated to the case that is offering information to assist the court in deciding the matter before it.

The proceedings relate to a petition brought by the residents of Zanuta, submitted via the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The petitioners are requesting a detailed construction plan for their community, because without it, the authorities feel free to issue demolition orders against tents, water cisterns, field WCs, wooden poles and canvas sheets.

The cave community of Zanuta, like other small Palestinian villages in the south Hebron Hills, existed long before the establishment of the State of Israel. In an anthropological opinion submitted to the High Court, Shuli Hartman writes that the ancestors of the Zanuta residents came to the caves from the nearby town of Dahariya in the early 20th century.

After 1967, when Israeli markets were opened up to cheap Palestinian labor (a tendency that has been reversed since the 1990s, when the policy of free movement was revoked ), the caves no longer met the needs of the community members. In addition, the caves had disintegrated from within and had become safety hazards. The Civil Administration did not issue demolition orders for these caves. No, it simply doesn't like their inhabitants living on ground level and in conditions suitable for the 21st century. Thus, it simply issued demolition orders to their simple makeshift structures. So many orders, that if carried out, the community will be wiped out.

Pottery shards found in the region indicate continuous settlement since the Iron Age (the seventh and even eighth century BCE ). Archaeologist Dr. Avi Ofer proposed that the site of Zanuta be identified with Dana, which was in the fifth group of Judean cities in the south Hebron Hills. People lived at the site during the Byzantine, medieval and Ottoman periods. But that does not impress the Civil Administration. It refuses to prepare a detailed plan for this old community (which it has done for the new Israeli settlements in the region ). Instead it orders the Palestinian residents to leave their homes in the thinly-populated area C (under Israeli civilian authority ), and to move to the densely-populated Dahariya or Shweika (in areas A and B, under Palestinian civilian authority ).

Hartman, in a fascinating anthropological-historical opinion, explains how transferring the dwellings of the shepherds in Zanuta would mean the obliteration of their way of life.

"Raising sheep is a family business that constitutes an entire way of life, and requires the daily coordinated activity of several men and women," writes Hartman. This activity is associated with "animals whose diet is related to grazing and agriculture, which is carried out on land belonging to the families. Managing the herd - raising, milking and grazing, selling - are all done in close conjunction with the natural conditions and the changing precipitation conditions, and require foresight, strategic planning and tactical moves.

"Not everyone is suited to this occupation, and the father prepares one or two of his sons as heirs to the profession, which although it is not studied in a university, has sustained families and a way of life for hundreds of years. It includes a number of fields of expertise: planning ability, administration, leadership and being in charge of a team." Raising the flock funds higher education for some of the sons.

"The community of shepherds relies on broad non-irrigated agricultural areas on the one hand, but also on an urban or semi-urban community to purchase the sheep for meat, or the dairy products. The mutual dependence between the two communities is clear precisely because of the differences and the complementary functions. This interdependence, in effect, relies on the existence of two separate entities: the city offers goods and services and the rural area offers the dairy products and the meat necessary for its residents."

And for the people in this community, time is running out.

There are so many ticking time bombs at play that one could get lost. Only last week, the state informed the High Court that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the destruction of eight other villages south of Yatta, in order to enable the Israel Defense Forces to conduct military training exercises in the region. In a report in The New York Times these villages were described as "hamlets," a correct definition, because these are in fact small villages. The problem with the definition is that it ignores the fact that a guiding and clearly visible hand braked the process of turning them into larger communities with permanent structures.

That was the process all over historic Palestine: Villages created offshoots around them, which developed into independent villages, although they maintained various links to the mother village. There were many reasons for leaving villages: natural population increases that led to population density, a shortage of land, seasonal departure as they followed the sheep that ultimately turned into permanent dwelling, a search for more water sources, interfamily conflicts.

Our diligent young men in the Civil Administration are very familiar with history and geography. They are well aware of the potential for natural growth that those offshoot villages have - from the northern Jordan Valley to the southern West Bank. That is why since the early 1970s, they have been planting explosive devices in the guise of IDF firing ranges, nature reserves, demolition orders, planning prohibitions, roads and fences.

That is how Area C - 62 percent of the West Bank - was created, and has been maintained as a sparsely populated area. Now our boys have made progress and are demanding the forced transfer of entire communities to Areas A and B. The High Court is requested to demonstrate courage and to suspend the mechanism designed to destroy Zanuta. But what is really needed is for the justices to press "Delete" on the software program that is titled, "the Elimination of Palestinian Existence in Area C."