A festive atmosphere reigned in Khallet Athaba, a tiny village in the South Hebron Hills. Flurries of activity centred around a large makeshift tent that had been erected on a dusty hilltop beside the village. Inside the tent, a couple of hundred plastic chairs were arranged in rows, facing a small stage. There were people from all sections of Palestinian society represented, including a large group of women and children, small knots of teenage boys and clusters of traditionally dressed men.
This June gathering was for a nonviolent resistance festival against the Israeli Occupation in the West Bank. An Amnesty International document released on 3 July explained that the Israeli army plans to expel the residents of eight villages in the South Hebron Hills, including Khallet Athaba, to make way for a military training zone known as Firing Zone 918. Some 1,000 Palestinian residents in these villages are in danger of becoming homeless and losing their livelihoods. Israel’s High Court of Justice has scheduled a hearing on the planned expulsion for 2 September 2013.
Spearheaded by a popular Palestinian committee, the resistance event I attended was the sixth annual festival and marked the culmination of the annual children’s summer camp. Events such as this have become commonplace in the West Bank, where nonviolent resistance is gaining in popularity and becoming a powerful alternative to the politics of Hamas and Fatah.
Hafez Huraini, a member of the popular committee, explained what they hoped to achieve through the festival. ‘We want to send a strong message to everyone, Palestinians and Israelis, with our example: nonviolence is possible, is effective, and it is the only way to fight for justice, dignity and peace,’ he said.
It was the first time I had ever attended an event like this. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, with barren hills stretching as far as the eye could see, sparsely dotted with vegetation and small villages. But the presence of Israeli border police surveying the scene from a hilltop about 500 metres away was a physical reminder that this rural community is under threat.
A press release from Operation Dove, an Italian-based organization committed to finding nonviolent solutions to war and conflict, reported that the inhabitants of the villages repeatedly have their dwellings demolished, their crops destroyed and their water cisterns damaged by the Israeli army and settlers. This is said to be a violation of the principles of international law, which states that Israel must provide for the needs of the Palestinian population and prohibits them from demolishing any structure that has a civilian purpose.
Sipping rich, cardamom-infused coffee, I soaked up the celebratory atmosphere, complete with music, games, performances and short speeches. I listened carefully as people explained the realities of life in this seemingly remote area. Israeli soldiers are forcing Palestinians out of the rural 60 per cent of the West Bank, an area that is officially known as Area C. Excuses for herding Palestinian communities off their land can include declaring an area a live-fire military zone or cordoning off land for an archaeological dig. Evictions generally begin with the confiscation of land followed by the establishment of Israeli settlements and then setting up checkpoints in the area.
One of the members of Operation Dove, who asked not to be named for security reasons, gave a rousing speech at the festival and urged the Palestinian community not to give up. ‘Every time I come here I see positive changes due to your unity and nonviolent struggle,’ he said. ‘The personal commitment of people involved in nonviolent resistance has grown and today we are celebrating for this reason. Don’t stop now!’