For about 25 minutes, they behaved liked lords of the land: One man, followed later by a young guy, descended from Mitzpeh Yair, one of the unauthorized outposts in the southern Mt. Hebron area, and prevented a United Nations jeep from traveling. UN directives prohibit leaving the vehicle in such cases, in order to avoid an escalation of friction. And so we, three Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) staffers and two Haaretz journalists, were forced to watch them demonstrate their lordliness from inside the car: The older one blocked the vehicle, in the middle of the unpaved road, with his body. Using hand movements, he ordered the engine shut down. When that didn't happen, he jumped on the hood and then on the roof and back on the hood, and finally lay back on the windshield and played with the wipers, taking them apart. The driver progressed slowly down the track, and the man leaned back on the windshield with force, until it broke and shards went into the driver's eyes. In the meantime, the younger guy appeared. He tried opening the doors of the jeep, screaming, "show me your identity cards" and placing big rocks in front of the wheels. By the time the army and police drove up, the older man yelled at Haaretz photographer Alex Levac: "Go back to where you came from." When he realized that Levac was a Jew and born in this country, he shouted: "Traitor, going with the UN." Both the older man and younger guy living at the outpost were born abroad. The younger man, a British citizen, has not yet been given new-immigrant status.
But what does that matter? It also didn't matter that the soldier described them as "problematic" and that the police are familiar with the older man from previous incidents of harassment. Nor did it matter that the police officers did not believe their absurd story that we had been in their olive grove and that we had tried to run the older man over. The tactic is one that is well-known from Hebron, the same tactic that helped to cleanse the Old City of most of its Palestinian residents: Jews harass and bully and then threaten to lodge complaints against their victims with the Israeli police. Harassment and sabotage of a much more serious nature than what we experienced has become routine for the Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the area. As a result, about 850 of the 3,500 or so inhabitants of the area known as Masafer Yatta (Yatta's periphery) have left their habitations, in caves and tent encampments. Sometimes it is their access to water sources that is damaged, sometimes their herds, other times themselves. They have piles of papers attesting to the police complaints they have submitted. Until they stopped filing complaints.
It is easy to blame the two men, or those like them. But they practice terrorizing Palestinians because Israeli authorities let them do so. In their own way, they do the same thing the "legitimate" occupation authorities do: They drive the Palestinians off their land to make room for Jews. In other words, they are following orders. About 10 days ago, a Civil Administration inspector impounded a tractor and water tanker belonging to the Hadidyah, a community of farmers and herders in the northern Jordan Valley, as a pressure tactic aimed at getting them to leave their tent encampment on the grounds that it is located in a closed military area. They are one of dozens of communities that have been living in the valley for many decades. Since 1967 the Hadidyah have been displaced four times. Using all sorts of inventive tactics, the occupation authorities have turned these communities into unauthorized residents on their own land. The springs and wells they used were turned over to the Mekorot Water Company: The water from the national company's drilling nearby is used by the "legitimate" settlers and its use by the Hadidyah is prohibited. As a result, they have to truck in water from a distant spring. The army has declared large areas of the valley firing zones. They end at the boundaries of the settlements.
The Israeli authorities have refused to rezone land to enable the community to live in the place the elders remember as their childhood home. But the adjacent land has been rezoned for the residence of Jews, Israeli citizens. Now the Civil Administration is hoping that thirst will drive them out of the piece of land allotted to them, which no longer has any land suitable for agriculture or grazing. That is Israel's policy toward the Palestinians in a nutshell, and talk of peace has not stopped it. The residents of the unauthorized outposts are merely imitating it and receiving both inspiration and protection from it.