Shepherds Reafirm Rights to Land in South Hebron

7 April 2007

Volunteers from PSP and Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Israeli Ta’ayush Movement accompanied farmers to their land in the areas of Im Neizil and Susiya today. The people in these small Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills have been the victims of violent attacks from Israeli settlers and have become dependent on international and Israeli accompaniment to work their land. In addition to the violent attacks which have deterred the Palestinian shepherds and farmers from going to work their land, they are also facing new legal challenges from the Israeli colonists aimed at confiscating their land. In Palestine, Palestinian owners must demonstrate that they are actively using land that they own. If the land is not worked for three years, the Israeli government can declare it abandoned and consficate it, usually to hand over to Israeli settlers. This has led to an absurd situation in Im Neizil. The Palestinians there are mainly shepherds who have been forced to plow land that is traditionally used as grazing land for the sheep. They are being forced to destroy grazing land by plowing it in order to demonstrate that the land is being used.

Today, while shepherds were plowing land in Im Neizil, other shepherds were accompanied by international and Israeli activists as they brought their sheep to graze near an illegal Israeli outpost near Susiya. The settlers contacted the Israeli army and demanded that the Palestinians be forced to leave, though the land is clearly Palestinian. Four army jeeps, including one police jeep, arrived and spoke with both the settlers and the Palestinian shepherds. In a relatively rare move, the Israeli Army confirmed that the land was rightfully Palestinian and the shepherds would be allowed to stay. In a third area near a military base, also near Susiya, Israeli activists convinced the soldiers that the Palestinians also had the right to plow the land there as well.
In all, shepherds and farmers successfully accessed land that was often-off limits in three areas; demonstrating their rights to the land.