May 22, 2023 — In recent days, our delegation saw half of us in the village of Tuba, helping our Palestinian partners there build a playground.
Like Sfai (the nearby village where the other half of our delegation was) residents of Tuba face forced expulsion, as they live in what Israel calls “Firing Zone 918.” The designation of land as a firing zone is one of several means Israel uses to expel Palestinian communities from their land, and fracture Palestinian identity.
Like many villages in the area of Masafer Yatta, Tuba sits near an Israeli settlement- in this case, Ma’on. When the Ma’on settlement expanded in the early 2000s to link up to a new outpost (designated as illegal under even Israeli law), Havat Ma’on, Tuba was cut off from the road leading to the nearby village of At-Tuwani, and the nearest city, Yatta.
Havat Ma’on is a notoriously violent settlement outpost. On the first day we stayed in Tuba, we received news that a settler had taken his flock to graze nearby, encroaching on the village’s land. Meanwhile, Palestinian farmers regularly face attacks by settlers when grazing their own herds. Settlers are often armed, and soldiers will watch on as they harass or attack Palestinian shepherds, acting as their personal protective force.
In the early 2000s solidarity activists regularly supervised children to walk to school on the most direct route, which meant passing through Havat Ma’on. On several occasions settlers violently attacked and beat the activists and children, ultimately hospitalising several of them. They were not tried in a military court, as Palestinians would be. Their homes were not demolished, despite the illegality of outposts under even Israeli law. They faced no consequences at all, their violence sanctioned by the state.
Since 2004, school children from Tuba have been escorted to the school in at-Tuwani by an Israeli military jeep. This is not a reasonable compromise, particularly as the jeep will often turn up late, or fail to show up at all. What was supposed to be a short-term solution has been in place for almost twenty years. While a school was built in the nearer village of Sfai, the Israeli military demolished it last week. Further attempts to reconstruct the school are likely to end in its demolition – while the Israeli army defends this by pointing out that such building is done without a permit, permits are systematically denied, meaning that residents have no way to build legally.
Building a playground in this context may not seem like an act of resistance – but it is. As with schools, any playgrounds built in these villages are at constant threat of demolition. Like all children, the kids in Tuba and Sfai deserve to be able to play and learn freely, and to live their lives free from occupation and apartheid.
Top two photos from Emily Glick