South Hebron Hills, West Bank

Breaking the Silence is a group of soldiers who are Israeli veterans from the West Bank. The group’s main goal is to expose the true reality in the occupied territories, and to promote a public debate on the moral price paid by Israeli society.

They offer tours to the West Bank for internationals and Israelis alike. I signed up for a tour to Hebron (one of the more strange settlements in the West Bank). Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank in which there are Israeli settlements in the heart of the city (about 500 settlers). The city is home to 150,000 Palestinians.

Just days before my day tour was to depart, the tour was changed from a visit to Hebron itself, and instead to the surrounding hills. This came at the recommendation of the local Israeli police. Why? Well, it seems the Hebron settlers had started getting more violent recently and had begun throwing rocks at Breaking the Silence tours. The settlers are not only violent against Palestinians in the West Bank city, but also visitors.

About the South Hebron Hills

The South Hebron Hills are almost completely ignored by the media and in public discourse. Israelis don’t know what happens here. And, speaking from my experience, I’d say many Israelis don’t care to know what happens. There is a serious lack of truth and honest discussion of what happens in the West Bank—especially locally. The soldiers’ stories from their service in the region are not extreme stories. They are common throughout the West Bank, but many believe that they’re just “rotten apples.” They’re not. These things happen every day. Breaking the Silence’s goal is to show that these stories are a part of the daily lives of so many.

I generally believe that knowledge is power. If just regular Israelis were made aware of what was happening in their “backyard,” things could move a lot faster toward peace. But too many people live in “the bubble” and are tired of hearing about “the place.” They want to move on with their lives. I can’t blame them too much, but when so much is at stake I cannot help but think ignoring the truth is a sign of selfishness.

Photos and Information from the tour

I am not a journalist. These are snippets and photos from the many stories I heard and scenes I saw on the tour. I hope you’ll find it informative, but if you’re really interested in seeing and knowing what happens in the West Bank, please check out the many testimonials and background information on Breaking the Silence’s website.

South Hebron Hills, West Bank
Talking about settlers, the IDF and the police. The IDF is sent to the West Bank to protect Israeli citizens living in the settlements. But, when Israeli settlers attack Palestinians, the IDF is not allowed to intervene. The most they can do is act as human shields and contact the Israeli police who are few and far between in the West Bank.
South Hebron Hills, West Bank
What settlement freeze? An outpost is constructed outside of the Susiya Israeli settlement. The West Bank settlement construction freeze put a moratorium on new construction, but it allowed construction to continue so long as the foundation was already in place before the freeze took effect.
South Hebron Hills, West Bank
Palestinian village under demoliton order. The Palestinians rebuilt their village on their land after the actual village (a few KMs or so away) was identified as an archaelogical site by Israelis. The government said no one could live in the village while the site is excavated. The workers for the archalegocial dig now live in the once Palestinian village. Settlers march through the land every week from their settlement to the archaeological dig, ignoring the fact that this is Palestinian land.
South Hebron Hills, West Bank
Water well at the same Palestinian village. At one point (because the village is under a demolition order), settlers (or maybe it was soldiers?) pushed junk cars into many of these water wells. The water in this well is now undrinkable.
South Hebron Hills, West Bank
Solar panels at the same Palestinian village.
South Hebron Hills, West Bank
Palestinian olive grove that settlers started farming. The Israeli court ruled settlers were not allowed to farm this grove because it was the Palestinians. Unfortunately, because of the expansion of the settlement, the land is now considered Israeli so Palestinians aren’t able to farm it anymore. No one can legally do anything with the trees.
South Hebron Hills, West Bank
Talking about Ma’on Hill and the settlement there. Israeli settlers attack Palestinian schoolchildren regularly who walk to school on a path that gets dangerously close to the settlement. The IDF regularly has had to walk the Palestinian children to school to protect them.

To view more photos from the tour, view my set on Flickr. I also have a few videos that I’ll try and post when I can. Some of the background information in this post came from some Breaking the Silence pamphlets from 2004 so information may be slightly out-of-date. Photos and tour information is from September 2010. If you’re interested in joining a Breaking the Silence tour while in Israel, visit www.breakingthesilence.org.il.

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