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Water resources in Masafer-Yatta, the South Hebron Hills

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By Giorgio Algeri - July 19, 2011
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Displacement] [demolition] [Masafer-Yatta] [South Hebron Hills] [Water]

Starting on Friday 1 July, I stayed for one week in at-Tuwani (ﺍﻟﻃﻮﺍﻧﻲ‎ ﺍﻟ), the small Palestinian village about 9 miles to the south of Hebron in the area known as Masafer-Yatta or the South Hebron Hills.

At-Tuwani is in Area C under full Israeli control[1], and around 350 people live in the village. Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the opposite unauthorized outpost called Havat Ma’on (on some maps… Hill 833) extend under half a mile to the east of the village .

My purpose here was to document the nearby settlers’ violence against the Palestinian shepherds, the village’s access to water and the impact of their non-violent protest.

Since 2004, Italian volunteers from the group Operation Dove and North American activists from Christian Peacemakers Teams have been based in at-Tuwani. Both international groups work to monitor human rights abuses while advocating for the villagers through press releases, video documentation and legal support.

The villagers of at-Tuwani have a long history of resisting non-violently to settler aggression, dating back to 1999, the year that the nearby Israeli outpost called Havat Ma’on was created.

Outposts are considered illegal under both Israeli law and international laws [2]. But this doesn’t stop them from being built.

“The nonviolent resistance started when these Palestinian shepherds decided to remain here, despite the military occupation and constant demolitions,” Francesco, one volunteer with Operation Dove said. “After each demolition, men rebuilt [their homes] while women kept watch from the top hill.” Operation Dove is present in at-Tuwani since 2004.

Despite the fact that the village is located in Area C, under constant threat of being attacked by Israeli settlers—and also soldiers—the villagers of at-Tuwani have reacted without resorting to the use of violence. Also, the villagers of at-Tuwani have refused any interference from political parties over their decisions and non-violent action.

The nonviolent resistance started when these Palestinian shepherds decided to remain here, despite the military occupation and constant demolitions,” Francesco, one volunteer with Operation Dove said

At-Tuwani is on the edge of the Negev Desert, a part of the country where the Seperation Wall has not yet been built. Furthermore, at-Tuwani was the first village in the South Hebron Hills to initiate non-violent resistance. Other nearby villages followed their example.

But unlike many other Palestinian villages, at-Tuwani has experienced some success.

Last year at-Tuwani was permitted by Israel to connect to the water pipeline from nearby Yatta, a nearby village in Area A, under Palestinian Authority control. It might have been a small victory, but it inspired them to continue their resistance.

“And King Saul pursued after David in the wilderness”

In the Old Testament, in the book of Samuel, it’s written: “King Saul pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon.” At this point biblical narrative, King Saul is pursuing David, who had escaped through the hills south of Hebron, to a village called Ma’on.

Claiming their right to the land based on this section of the Old Testament, a group of religious Israelis established the modern day settlement of Ma’on in 1981.

For the next eighteen years, the Jewish settlers built up the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on. Once the Israeli Army declared the area as a military base—aiming to displace the Palestinian population—the leaders of the local Palestinian Popular Committees initiated a series of non-violent protests.

Upon appeal to the Israeli High Court of Justice on 29 March 2000, all the villagers from the area of Masafer Yatta—those who had previously been evacuated—obtained the right to return to their land and homes.

Water emergency

Most communities in the South Hebron Hills depend on private water supplies. An exception is at-Tuwani, which has water access and has been connected to Yatta’s water pipeline—also controlled by Israel—since 2010.

Since 1967, Israel has controlled all water resources in West Bank (vis-à-vis the Mountain Aquifer and the Jordan Basin). Using a law that dates back to the Ottoman period, Israel claims land that has been uncultivated for three consecutive years. Lack of access to water resources debilitates Palestinian farmers and makes it nearly impossible for them to tend their crops.

In the hills surrounding at-Tuwani, other small villages face their own, related problems.

The village of Maghayr al-Abeed is also located in the area of Masafer Yatta. Villagers here are also active participants of the non-violent movement in the South Hebron Hills and work in coordination with At-Tuwani’s leaders.

In this small village, there are around 40 people living in traditional stone caves. Kamel is a 29-year-old shepherd who identified himself only by first name. Water is extremely expensive in this remote area, he said. In order to satisfy his most basic needs, Kamel has to spend up to 300 shekels per week, and buy the water from Yatta where water is available.

In another village, Tuba, Palestinians often have to buy private water tanks from the Israeli settlement, Kiryat Arba.

In the village of Tuba, a family of 15 tend 170 sheeps and 40 doves. They They Tspend up to 600 shekels per week for about 20 cubic meters of water, they said. The high price is mainly due to the transportation costs of retrieving the water.

The case of at-Tuwani: Electricity network and water pipeline

One of the most recent and significant achievements in at-Tuwani has been the supply of electricity. As result of the non-violent struggle of the villagers of at-Tuwani, electricity pylons were finally installed. Since 2010, at-Tuwani has been connected to the electricity grid in Yatta.

In the South Hebron Hills, water supply is extremely expensive. Droughts, movement constraints, and demolitions by the Israeli army contribute to an increase in the costs of water supply. Prolonged drought and heat are the main causes for desertification in the area.

Since late 2010, at-Tuwani villagers have had access to a water pipeline. They are given access to the minimum amount of water needed to survive. The population from the nearby villages refill only small tanks of water at the costs of about 6 NIS per cubic meter. Yet, the price does not include transportation costs, which can vary.

The power of non-violence in at-Tuwani

On Saturday 10 July 2011, villagers demonstrated against the expansion of the Havat Ma’on outpost. Participants chanted and carried a banner that read: “We want to leave in Peace and Dignity.”

Settlers—most of who work through the week—take Saturday off. On their weekends, they often attack nearby Palestinian villages. Attacks became so frequent and regular in at-Tuwaini that in reaction, villagers began organizing protests, which have become weekly events.

There are three key elements in the strategy of non-violence in at-Tuwani. The first is direct action and commitment to non-violence, the second is presence of foreign volunteers and the third is coordination with media outlets, both local and international.

Children, too, are fully aware of the problems faced by their families in at-Tuwani.

“They are able to distinguish who the settlers are, who the soldiers are, and how to act during the protests,” Francesco, an OD volunteer says. “The kids are active in the protests, every week, from the time they are ten.”


[1] Area C: Full Israeli control over security, project policy and construction (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA 2009).

[2] (Article 49, 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; Article 55, Hague Regulations; Articles 2.1, 6, 38.4 of the United Nations Convention of the Right of the Child, and Article 11.1 of the International Covenant in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Court of Justice, among others)

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