This Saturday morning, September 26, the IDF declared the area of the Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills to be "a closed military zone" in order to prevent the entry of a Water Convoy organized by Israeli peace movements - but nevertheless, the activists managed to break through the military cordon and pass the convoy as planned. The Water Convoy included about a hundred activists who arrived in buses from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem as well as in private cars and large water tankers carrying about 25 tons of water.
About 10.30am the convoy was blocked by military forces which spread spikes on he road near the Israeli settlement of Carmel and the officer in charge forbade them to enter the "closed military zone."
The organizers explained that they were involved in a vital humanitarian activity, bringing water to where there is severe lack of it, but the army persisted in denying access. Thereupon, the organizers instructed activists to leave the buses and proceed on foot, bypassing the military roadblock.
In a long line the activists walked along the southward road, under the desert sun, followed by military jeeps. TV crews of international networks walked alongside and documented the protest march. After they walked about three kilometers there came to the activists inhabitants of the Palestinian villages, driving tractors with platforms on which the Israelis climbed, traveling on unpaved tracks deep into the desert area.
Meanwhile the water tankers succeeded to arrive via desert bypass roads, accompanied by a bulldozer which removed obstacles on difficult spots, thus allowing the tankers to pass.
About 12.30, the activists, the Palestinian inhabitants and the tankers all reached the pre-arranged rendez-vous point. They proceeded on the water distribution, traveling among the small hamlets in the area, stopping at each and giving inhabitants their share. What impressed the urban activists above all was how in one village, Jinaba, the cattle trough was filled directly from the tanker, and the thirsty sheep started drinking immediately.
Suddenly there arrived the military jeeps with the soldiers trying to arrest the Palestinian bulldozer driver, claiming that he had "opened blocked routes" and thereby "harmed security." Dozens of Israelis surrounded the bulldozer, some of them climbing on it, with their bodies blocking the soldiers from approaching the driver - himself an inhabitant of one of the nearby villages. "Shame on you! Shame!" activists shoutled at the soldiers. "Shame on you for denying the inhabitants here water, for blocking the roads and filling up their wells! One day all of you will be ashamed to tell your sons and grandsons where you have been, and what you have done!"
The convoy organizers made clear to the commander of the military force that by no means will they leave the territory as long as the army continues the threat of arresting the bulldozer driver and confiscating his vehicle. After a two hours stand-off the commander gave in and let the bulldozer depart. Several of the activists accompanied the bulldozer until it came back safely to its origin.
For several months the peace organizations are acting to protest the Policy of Thirst. The State of Israel is taking about 80% of the water from the West Bank aquifers for the needs of its citizens and of the settlers, leaving only about a fifth to the Palestinian inhabitants whose land it is. In so doing the State of Israel is perpetrating a severe violation of international law, according to which an occupying state is not allowed to use the natural resources of the occupied territory.
The inhabitants of the South Hebron Hill are in a worse situation than the rest of the West Bankers. They are not at all connected to water pipes, the army is deliberately filling up their wells, and their only way to obtain water by tankers arriving from far. Water, therefore, is for them very expensive, 50 to 60 Shekels (US$16-19) per cubic meter, as compared to some 4 shekel for an Israeli who gets it delivered to his tap. And, these Palestinians already live below the poverty line. Moreover, the army is making difficulties and deliberately blocking roads in order to prevent arrival of the tankers.
In fact, we have here a deliberate effort to make life so difficult so that they will leave the South Hebron Hills, making it possible to annex the area to Israel "free of Arabs" - as is the declared desire of the particularly aggressive and extremist settlers who have established themselves throughout this area. In 1999 the army carried out a mass deportation of these Palestinian inhabitants, but the Supreme Court ruled that this was illegal and ordered the government to allow them back to their modest homes (some living in caves).
Now the authorities try to achieve the same result by the indirect way of making their life into hell, in the hope that they will leave "voluntarily" the land where they lived for generations and where they find their scant livelihood as shepherds.
The Thirst Policy of the government against the Palestinians in general and these South-Hebroners in particular is highly despicable, racist and inhuman.
We have no illusion that with our own resources we can provide all the water which Palestinians need. Our limited action is meant in the first place to express protest and fury and make people aware, in Israel and everywhere.
Israeli representatives: Yaakov - 09-7670801 / 050-5733276 Shai - 052-3727602 Yehuda - 050-4402350 Adam - 054-2340749
Representatives of the South Hebron Hills area: Othman - 054-7426591 Hader - 059-8014491
Partner organizations in the protest convoy: Anarchists Against the Wall, Humans without Borders, Banki, Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, ICAHD, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, AIC, Tarabut – Hithabrut, Hadash, Yesh Gvul, Combatants for Peace, Machsomwatch, Maki, Meretz, Sadaqa-Reut, New Profile, Coalition of Women for Peace, Physicians for Human Rights, Taayush – Arab Jewish Partnership;
Palestinian organizations supporting the water campaign: House of Water &Environment, Life Source, Medical Relief Society, Palestinian Environmental NGOs Net work (PENGON), Palestinian Farmers Union, Palestinian Hydrology Group, Palestinian Institute for Water Issues Training, Palestinian Peasants Union, Union of Agricultural Work Committees;
International organizations supporting the water campaign: International Solidarity Movement, International Women's Peace Services, Michigan Peacemakers Team, CCIPPT-France Civil for Palestine.
Following pressure from the UK, the French government has vowed to destroy the camp – known locally a “the jungle” – to discourage traffickers and would-be migrants from using Calais as the main staging area to smuggle people on board lorries headed across the Channel.
But the announcement last week by immigration minister Eric Besson that the jungle would be dismantled within days gave the camp’s occupants ample opportunity to leave the area.
Charity workers who regularly administer medical aid and food to the thousands of so-called “sans papiers” (without papers) that flock to Calais area every year say those inside the camp are determined not to be caught by the crackdown. Some have even gone as far as burning their hands in order not to be identified by their fingerprints.
Monique Delannoy, president of Beautiful Star, one of a handful of organisations that help migrants in a country where aiding a sans papiers is technically illegal, said many of the camp’s 800 residents began leaving last week when M. Besson made his announcement.
“Until recently, they were 700 to 800 in the Calais jungles, now there are about 250,” she said. “The news of the evacuation has gone round so they went further afield.” Some have suggested that there may be as few as 30 or 40 remaining.
Patrick Delouvin, president of the French Coalition for the Rights of Asylum Seekers (CFDA), said migrants were going to extreme lengths not to be identified because they were terrified of being either sent back to their first port of entry in the EU (usually Greece) or their homelands.
Home Secretary Alan Johnston yesterday said he was “delighted” to hear that France was closing the camp. He added: “Both countries are committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach.”
Migrants have been living in variety of camps and squats around Calais ever since the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp seven years ago. Their presence has become a major bone of contention between Britain and France, who both accuse each other of not doing enough to discourage the migrants.
The jungle to the east of Calais town centre, close to where many of the lorries stop before boarding onto ferries, has been the main gathering point for Afghans, Iraqis and a small contingent of Iranians. A number of squats closer into town have been taken over by east Africans, mainly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese. Most refuse to claim asylum in France because the UK is their ultimate goal.
While the French government, including Calais’ town mayor, are determined to crack down on the migrants, critics say removing the jungle will simply force the refugees to set up camps further away from the town.
Mme Delannoy added: “This will solve absolutely nothing. Eventually the migrants will return to the area because England will always be 45km from Calais.”