Israel's state-sponsored injusticeWatching the criminal collusion of settlers and the army in Susiya, it's clear this is a microcosm of an indefensible situation
Within an hour of arriving at the Palestinian hamlet of Susiya, the local settlers decided to make an unwelcome appearance on the farmers' land, shattering the calm of dusk as the sun set over the Judean hills. The intruders drove their sheep all the way to the edge of the Palestinians' encampment, encouraging their animals to gorge themselves on the sparse flora belonging to their neighbours' flocks.
Watching a crime take place is never pleasant for onlookers, but the experience is made infinitely worse when there is no recourse whatsoever to ameliorate the situation. In more tolerant and equitable societies, witnesses can pick up the phone and call the authorities, in the hope and expectation that the police will intervene on behalf of the victim and right the wrong being committed. But when the very security forces meant to deal out justice are standing alongside the criminals and providing armed cover for their actions, the sense of disbelief and disaffection with the status quo is off the scale.
In this case, the two settlers were aided and abetted by a pair of M16-toting Israel Defence Force guards, who stood menacingly in position to keep the distraught Palestinian farmers at bay; the hopeless cries of opposition by the landowners falling on deaf ears, the stony-faced soldiers gazed on impassively and let the settlers brazenly steal the crops from under their noses. Neither the farmers, their families, the NGO workers staying with them nor our group of eight visiting observers could do a thing to prevent the theft – and the micro-story on this remote patch of scrubland embodies the macro situation across the region as a whole.
Before arriving in Susiya, we had spent the morning in Hebron, witnessing the state-sponsored land grab and destruction of thousands of livelihoods to make way for a few hundred fundamentalist settlers whose ultimate goal is ridding the city of all Palestinians to live out some warped interpretation of Torah-based commandments.
Whole streets of Palestinian-owned shops stood deserted; their doors welded shut by the army – in the all-trumping name of "security precautions", of course – and daubed with outsized Stars of David and "Death to the Arabs" graffiti, courtesy of the local settlers. Palestinian homes sported vast metal grilles on their windows, doors and outside stairways to fend off the rocks and other projectiles hurled daily by settler men, women and children alike.
Back in Susiya, the situation is even worse.
After a night's sleep in a tent still sporting the scars of a settler attempt to raze it to the ground, we woke at the crack of dawn to accompany the shepherds into the mist-covered hills to graze their sheep. A pair of early-rising settlers were spurred into action, and they laid into one flock with fists and rocks, screaming at the shepherds to go back to their camp – and, once again, all under the benevolent watch of the soldiers on duty a few metres away.
Two attacks within 12 hours was nothing out of the ordinary for the residents of Susiya but were a major shock to those of our group paying their first visit to the South Hebron hills: ample proof that the settlers and the army collude to make the Palestinians' lives unbearable in an attempt to force them to leave the region for good. As a sergeant who served in the area explained in his testimony to Breaking the Silence, "The practical objective of our brigade was to guard the Jewish settlement in the Hebron Hills. To guard means also to make a ring around them, where other people won't live. They embittered the lives of the people who live there."
For those who see such embitterment up close, the settlers' and soldiers' actions are indefensible. An army of apologists couldn't convince the neutral that such crimes are in any way conscionable
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