The Pen Is Mightier Than an Arbitrary Eviction Order

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Did David Grossman’s enthralling op-ed ‏(“The highway, the village and the road not taken,” June 26‏) entice the Supreme Court justices to hint that they would issue stop-work orders for the Beit Safafa highway if the Jerusalem municipality fails to invest a little money to diminish the harm caused to the village’s residents?

After all, the residents have already warned the judges against the “aggressive” construction, the “monstrous” and “unnecessary” highway, and the “injustice and malice,” as Grossman put it, taking place mere meters from their homes.

In February, Jerusalem District Court Judge Nava Ben-Or struck down the residents’ petition against the plan. In March, Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel rejected the residents’ request to delay construction until their appeal against the District Court decision is heard. As Nir Hasson reported, Arbel wrote in her decision, “The courts are not inclined to get involved in the planning and building authorities’ professional decisions.”

These professional decisions included the failure to submit a detailed plan for a multilane highway that would be built right outside the Beit Safafa residents’ bedrooms. As Hasson has written several times, the residents were not even allowed to file objections to the highway’s construction, which has been planned such that they will not have direct access to it.

On one hand, there is a desire to believe that the implications of this aggressive plan ‏(which has no parallel in Jewish neighborhoods‏) has seeped into the judges’ consciousness, however belatedly. On the other hand, there is hope that the author’s words struck the right chord, considering that Grossman and other authors are now dedicating their time, anger and the writing talents to another act of injustice and malice: Live Fire Zone 918.

A reminder: The Israel Defense Forces has to train. Among the Palestinian lands that the IDF has co-opted and robbed for this purpose are 30,000 dunams ‏(some 7,500 acres‏) east of the town of Yatta, which were designated as a live fire training zone in 1980. But bloody hell: Human beings live there!

During the years of dry training, the IDF maintained a strange sort of coexistence with the residents of 12 Palestinian hamlets, who lead a special, almost Biblical way of life: They live in caves, in ancient stone structures and in tents; they tend their flocks and they grow grain and vegetables for local use.

Israeli obstruction

They come from Yatta, which their forebears left decades or even centuries ago. Shepherds and farmers left their village of origin due to population growth, the expansion of their flocks and the need to give the depleted soil a rest. They settled near new water sources, pastures and arable land. Through this natural process, clusters of Palestinian hamlets and villages formed over the course of hundreds of years. Since the 1970s Israel has been obstructing this natural process here and in most of the West Bank − regions which have been placed under Israeli military and civilian control designated temporarily as “Area C” as per the Oslo Accords. Israel has not allowed new construction in these villages, and did not include them in the master plans that it prepared for Jews.

But suddenly, in November 1999 ‏(the peace process, negotiations, Oslo. Remember?‏) our forces raided the villages, expelled their inhabitants and destroyed some of the homes. I remember well the shocked voice of the normally calm lawyer Shlomo Lecker, who reported to me over the phone about the poor men’s caves, whose dwellers he represents.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel undertook the expelled residents’ legal struggle as well. In 2000, an interim High Court of Justice order allowed the residents back to their semi-destroyed villages until a final ruling was issued. But the High Court did not allow them to rebuild, install infrastructure or adapt their homes to the developing needs of life ‏(education, freedom of movement for women and quality of life for the elderly and the disabled‏). Since then, dedicated Civil Administration officials have been lying in wait with demolition orders and bulldozers for every goat pen, toilet and well built in contravention of what is called “the law.”

Last year the petitions were dusted off when then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the area must be used for military training, especially in light of the failures of the Second Lebanon War. Out of the generosity of his heart, Barak ordered the expulsion of the residents of “only” eight villages.

A glance at the map explains this gesture: Some land surrounding the four lucky villages that were spared has been taken up by illegal and unauthorized Jewish outposts. Even seasoned prosecutors would have a hard time explaining to the High Court why a Jewish outpost can continue to flourish in a firing zone, while a Palestinian village must be razed.

Alongside the heroic residents, who are determined not to leave their homes despite the persecution, stand Israeli organizations such as Ta’ayush, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Bimkom and Breaking the Silence. Last week some of those groups organized a tour in the area, and the authors Eyal Megged, Alona Kimhi, Sayed Kashua and Zeruya Shalev visited two of the hamlets slated for demolition and expulsion ‏(Jinba and Mufaqara‏).

Now is also time to reveal that ahead of the approaching High Court hearing on the matter, a public declaration denouncing the expulsion will be issued, signed by the four aforementioned authors as well as their colleagues David Grossman, Salman Masalha, Amos Oz, Haviva Pedaya, A.B. Yehoshua, Ronit Matalon, Natan Zach, Agi Mishol, Meir Shalev, Joshua Sobol, Etgar Keret, Salman Natur, Nir Baram, Sami Michael, Dorit Rabinyan, Shimon Adaf, Alon Hilu, Yehoshua Kenaz and Assaf Gavron. Yoram Kaniuk also signed the declaration before his death last month.

Will the common sense and the shock expressed by the writers, some of whom are at the heart of Israel’s cultural-national mainstream, make ripples that will reach the court when it deliberates on the state’s request to expel a thousand more Palestinians and destroy eight more villages?

Zeruya Shalev was among the authors to visit Palestinian village of Jinba, whose residents face expulsion. Credit: Alex Levac
Alona Kimhi and Zeruya Shalev visit Palestinian village of Jinba.Credit: Alex Levac

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