April 4, 2023 — On a recent Sunday morning, a week and a half into Ramadan, a resident of Tuwani village hired a cement truck to help him with a construction project he had planned for his family’s home. Only a few hours later, the army entered the village and, without explanation or paperwork, ordered that the construction be stopped and stated that they would be confiscating the truck.
The Hineinu activists, who were doing their Arabic homework in Susiya at the time, received an all-too-familiar, urgent phone call from an activist in Tuwani: “The army is here, come quick.” By the time they arrived at the entrance of Tuwani, the soldiers had decided that, in addition to stopping the work and confiscating the truck, they were also going to arrest the driver of the truck, all without explanation or a signed order.
The army forced the driver into their jeep and drove off. Hours passed as the activists and residents of Tuwani desperately tried to get more information about what had happened and where the driver was being taken.
These sorts of incidents are all too typical in the South Hebron Hills. Palestinian villages are constantly monitored by neighboring settlers who report any construction to the Israeli military, which typically halts it or demolishes the structures in question. Tuwani is actually one of the only villages in the region that the Israeli authorities have granted a “master plan” for building (after the residents won a long and hard-fought battle with the state), which ostensibly ensures the right to build within the legal municipal borders of the village. Yet despite the master plan, when settlers report building in Tuwani, the army will still often show up and stop the construction, at least temporarily, as happened with the cement truck on Sunday.
Ultimately, the settlers and the Israeli government work together to surveil Palestinians. The settlers – individually and as part of larger organizations like Regavim – monitor Palestinians on ground, particularly through drones, and the Israeli government funds them. Just this week, the Israeli Knesset passed a budget proposal to double the funds that finance settler surveillance activity.
The residents of the South Hebron Hills know this surveillance policy intimately. Just two weeks ago, the Hineinu activists woke up in Umm al-Khair to find that two new security cameras had been put up overnight at the entrance to the village. These moments — the confiscated truck and the installation of just a few more security cameras — are seemingly small, and never garner any sort of attention. But, this week especially, it’s clear that the cumulation of these moments are exactly what it means to live under Israeli military rule and the unrelenting pressure to cease to exist.
Photos and text from Emily Glick.