Israeli soldiers prevented Palestinians from Sussia from accessing a playground in their West Bank village on Saturday morning after settlers arrived there. The settlers left about 20 minutes later, after additional forces, including police officers, arrived.
The playground opened in September for the children of the Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, after it was renovated and safety defects were repaired. According to residents, as soon as the repairs were completed, settlers began to come to the playground and photograph it. They also staged a protest there, demanding that the Israeli Civil Administration demolish it because it was built without a permit.
According to Omri Eran Vardi, an Israeli activist who was at the scene on Saturday, Israeli activists had gone there to photograph a new outpost that had been built near the Palestinian village. Settlers they came across began to run straight for the playground and broke the entrance gate. Palestinian children who were in the playground at the time left. A settler was filmed chasing off a Palestinian child with a dog.
“At this point there were a few dozen settlers and quite a few soldiers who were blocking the entrance to the playground,” said Vardi. According to the activists, the settlers remained in the playground for about 20 minutes. “After a lot of pressure to remove them, they pretty much left on their own, shaking hands with all the soldiers and saying Shabbat shalom,” he said. He added that the settlers left the playground via a central path through the village while soldiers blocked the way to the activists so they wouldn’t film the settlers. The army also declared the area a closed military zone, despite the fact that it is inside a Palestinian village. Altogether, the activists said, the settlers were in the village for about an hour.
“There is a rise in violence by the settlers in the area, they come into the villages themselves. This is what happened at al-Mufkara and it happens at Sussia and other places,” said attorney Quamar Mishirqi of the human rights organization Haqel, which represents local residents in several cases. According to Mishirqi, the chief of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command has signed a number of orders recognizing Palestinian ownership of the areas and has prohibited Israelis from entering them. Other orders prohibit any person from entering these areas except for their Palestinian owners, who are allowed to enter them with prior permission, so that they will be protected. However, Mishirqi said that the army does not enforce the orders when it comes to settlers. “They invade the areas and take them over or built structures and outposts,” he said. “If a Palestinian would enter the [nearby] settlement of Susya, which itself is a closed military zone, what do you think would happen to him?”
The fact that soldiers allowed settlers to enter a playground stands out even more in light of an incident that took place about two months ago on another playground, in the Jordan Valley. In that instance, an activist of the human rights group Machsom Watch, Rachel Afek, came with eight Palestinian children and a mother from the village of Khallet Makhul to a playground in the settlement of Hemdat. A few minutes later Hemdat’s civilian security coordinator arrived and demanded that they leave, calling the army to the scene.
Soldiers removed the children from the settlement and took Afek to the police station at Sha’ar Binyamin, where she was interrogated on suspicion of bringing illegal residents into a closed military zone. She was released three hours later and asked to return the next day for further questioning.