Amira Hass
April 4, 2011 - 12:00am

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? A bulldozer destroys a cistern, with only a shepherd nearby. Is the grinding sound of cement being crushed that is heard by the driver considered a sound? A bulldozer destroys another cistern, with only Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills nearby and few lefties from Ta'ayush, an Arab-Jewish anti-occupation group. cooperative Israeli-Palestinian association. Has there even been a demolition, if the sound hasn't reached The New York Times?

The destruction of cisterns, tent homes and crowded animal pens is endlessly documented. The UN, Israeli and Palestinian organizations and foreign volunteers make a note of every uprooted tree, and every sheep and child robbed of the roof over their heads. If not for these organizations, how would we know that the army of defense never rests and the Civil Administration is not twiddling its thumbs? Our best young men are sent to foil the Palestinians' criminal insistence on living on their land. What chutzpah, their land happens to be situated in the very bedrock of our existence, Area C (over which Israel has exclusive control and which comprises more than 60 percent of the Palestinian West Bank ). And so from the start, there was no cistern to destroy, or family to uproot, and, in any case, no sound that would reach anybody's ears.

In other words: On the 35th anniversary of Land Day last Wednesday morning, a procession of fancy official Palestinian cars of various sizes and colors arrived in the South Hebron Hills. Between Ramallah, where they set out from, and the site of their visit, where the green poked out bashfully among the rocks, the entourage was joined by a few more cars, whose Israel-ness is unmistakeable: army, police, civil administration and also the Shin Bet security service, some say, the latter in a white Toyota. If not in that, then in one of the other cars, because, as has been made public, the Shin Bet insists on accompanying Dr. Salam Fayyad in Area C, so that no ill will befall him at the hands of some unidentified beings.

Fayyad is the leader of one of two incumbent Palestinian governments - one in Ramallah, one in Gaza - and he was to commemorate Land Day with a visit to the village of At-Tawani. This village, like other neighboring communities, suffers from routine attacks by settlers in the area, the army's helplessness (intentional? You decide ), and the Civil Administration's ban on building and development.

A day earlier, Israeli armed forces and the Civil Administration raided a small community of shepherds near Sussiya, destroying 12 tent homes as well as several shacks. When they tried to confiscate a tractor, the residents objected. A clash ensued, and residents reported beatings by soldiers, use of tear gas and seven wounded (some of them in people in their 60s ).

On February 23, the tiny community had been awarded an earlier visit from the authorities. At that time, disciplined soldiers destroyed two cisterns and seven tents, and confiscated a tow truck. Of course, this is farm land, and Palestinians are forbidden to have a permanent presence on it.

They are forbidden to dig cisterns to collect rainwater without permission from the Civil Administration, which does not intend to grant it (and it should be made clear, the entire Civil Administration - all its officers, clerks and inspectors, whether or not they are settlers - are only obeying the orders of the Israeli government, the same orders since the 1970s ).

At the suggestion of the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee, a clumsy name for an energetic organization of activists from half a dozen villages, Fayyad began his visit at the outlaw water cisterns.

He arrived at this site of destruction accompanied by Israeli army and civil administration vehicles, which a day and also a month earlier had demolished the cisterns and tents.

While these representatives of destruction viewed the goings-on from nearby hilltops, Fayyad listened to the complaints of villagers. It is the story of grazing areas that continue to contract, due to attacks by settlers.

A woman said, "Water, we need water." A man explained to Fayyad, as if he didn't know, that the civil administration does not grant building permits to Palestinians, but only to Jews.

Fayyad entered a cave home, glanced at the destroyed tents, and descended into a broken cistern. There were many photo-ops. Especially when he spread a sheet of dough on a stone oven, and afterwards lay a cement brick in an act of construction.

Members of the coordinating committee had prepared an outlaw steel skeleton in advance, brought bricks and sacks of Israeli Nesher brand concrete (with contents and source identifed in Arabic, one of the demands made of Palestinian importers and merchants by the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy, in order to distinguish between materials from the settlements and those from inside Israel ). Right in front of representatives of the sovereign - the army and its extension, the Civil Administration - Fayyad broke the law.

"If foreigners help us, why shouldn't the Palestinians help us?" asked one woman, a native of the area, who, along with her grandchildren sticking close by her broad skirt, looked at the guests, whose shoes gave away the fact they had come all the way from Ramallah. The Palestinian Authority (go tell AIPAC or the U.S. Congress ) budgets various sums to support farming and residential activity in the area known as C, including the breaking of laws as grave as those against the digging of cisterns and even the paving of connecting roads.

On Land Day 2010, Fayyad visited Qarawat Bani Hassan, in the area of Salfit, where residents complained about the lack of a paved road from the village to its farm land.

The Civil Administration won't grant a permit. With Fayyad's support, and funding from the Palestinian Authority, a road was paved, about a kilometer or so long. Its name in Palestine: the Freedom Road.

Three months ago, representatives of the sovereign came to undo the transgression: They destroyed the road. The residents repaired it, with official funds. On March 24, guardians of law and order corrected the distortion. They destroyed the road again.


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