“One could save millions of words and mountains of paper, if one could bring a million Israelis here, It would change their outlook in a minute!” exclaimed a woman when she reached, worn out and breathing heavily, the top of the hill.
The hill is called, in occupation-speak, “Palm’s Hill”. Very high, very steep. It belongs to the village of al-Khaddar, south of Bethlehem. The settlers of Efrata targeted it a long time ago. The slogans are nationalist, saving another chunk of land for the Greater Israel. But the money, too, is not to be sneezed at. As real estate, the hill is worth hundreds of millions for the speculators, who, as usual, wrap themselves in the Zionist flag. The villagers who own the land have put up a protest tent at the foot of the hill, and we é about fifty Israeli peace activists é went there to demonstrate our solidarity.
I know this particular hill well, having climbed it several times in the past. Five years ago, the Efrata settlers tried to take it over. Then, too, we went there to help the villagers. Day after day we confronted the soldiers, who were commanded, quite openly, by MK Hanan Porat of the settlers’ party (he who said “happy Purim” after the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron). There, for the first time, I met Alik Ron, then the commander of the Samaria-Judea police (under whose command 13 Arab citizens of Israel were recently murdered.) After several non-violent confrontations on the hill, a very violent confrontation erupted below it, shots were fired by the army and several people é myself included é were arrested. But we won a rare victory: the Rabin government gave up the plan to build a settlement on Palm’s Hill.
From the top of the hill, one has a wonderful view é a sea of hills divided by valleys, reaching the horizon in every directions. At a glance, one can learn a lot.
One can learn, for example, how Shimon Peres is trying (again) to hoodwink the whole world. He is ready to freeze all building activity in the settlements, except within the “built up areas”. From the top of Palm’s Hill, one can see what that means. It looks like this: Several miles behind me, there lies Efrata settlement proper, a 10 kilometer long sausage. In front of me, about two kilometers away, there is a settlement of mobile homes, called Cereal’s Hill. To the right of me, some kilometers away, the red roofs of another settlement. All these belong officially to Efrata and define its “built-up area”. Between them there lie many kilometers, on which one can build housing projects for tens of thousands of settlers. And that is only one settlement among more than a hundred.
But when Israelis hear about “building only within the built-up area”, they imagine an empty plot between two houses on Dizengoff street in Tel-Aviv. So if a settler wants to build there a room or a veranda for his son, why not? As Sharon’s propaganda minister, Peres excels in cheating. It’s a mitzve (good deed) to cheat the Goyim.
One can learn there, also, about the face of the occupation. When we reached the top of the hill, we were stopped by a line of soldiers. Fifty meters before us we saw the mobile homes of the new settlement. It is illegal under Israeli law (and defined as a “war crime” by international law), but the army sent its soldiers to defend it.
The soldiers were men from the reserves. The demonstrators started to argue with them, one of the young women engaged a soldier, 35 or so years old, in a friendly conversation. He looked like a nice person. Suddenly he saw a Palestinian advancing a few yards. In a split second, the nice soldier turned into a brutal robot. He changed before our eyes, as if by magic. His expression and body language changed, changed. He treated the Arab as if he were a dog é without spaking, with a threatening gesture of his hand. It was easy to imagine what would have happened if we, the Israelis and the cameras, had not been there.
A few days ago the army took over a big house on the edge of al-Khaddar, The people living there were thrown out, soldiers moved in, an Israeli flag was hoisted. Beyond it, we saw the clouds of dust raised by moving tanks. Al-Khaddar is completed cut-off, totally blockaded. In it, all work has ceased.
That is called a “cease-fire”.
In the green protest-tent, at the foot of the hill, we heard the story of an old Arab woman. From her, too, one could learn a lot. She lives at the nearby refugee camp, Dheishe. She is originally a refugee from Kubeibe village, which she called by the present Hebrew name, Lakhish. In the first intifada, one of her seven children was killed. Then, after 50 years of possessing nothing, she succeeded in buying a little plot of two dunams (2000 sq. meters) on the hill, to grow sorghum. Now she cannot go there, the land has been taken away.
Thus another lie is being uncovered. The Sharon-Peres line is that the refugees should be settled where they are. It seems that this does not apply to the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They are condemned, so it seems, to become refugees for the second time.