Life in the Seam Zone Village of Al-Seefer
On Saturday 1st June, during Ramadan, two CPT’ers were accompanying community partners in At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. While there, the CPT’ers were invited to share an iftar meal with the Bedouin community in Al-Seefer and it was too good an opportunity to miss, so they were delighted to accept. The car ride round the military checkpoint through rocky terrain was hair-raising; seven passengers in an ordinary road car which was constantly buttoming on the rocks, so the CPT’ers breathed a huge sigh of relief when they arrived still in one piece!
Al-Seefer village is in the Seam Zone, meaning the village is located in Palestinian West Bank territory between the 1949 Armistice Line (the internationally recognised border between Israel and Palestine) and the Separation Barrier which Israel has built, allegedly for “security” reasons. The village is surrounded by Israeli settlements, which are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and there is an Israeli military checkpoint close by. Palestinians living there, although still in Palestinian territory, are cut off from the rest of the West Bank and require special permits to enter the Seam Zone.
During the iftar meal, the residents of Al-Seefer shared with the CPT’ers more about life in the Seam Zone. The villagers, about 60 in total (13 families), are forbidden from entering Israel, and their friends and family cannot visit them since they don’t have the required permits. They are trapped in what is almost a prison with little access to the most basic of facilities like water and electricity, and their children struggle desperately to access their right to an education. According to UNICEF, what should be just a 15-minute walk to school is usually about an hour as children have to negotiate their way past Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint, pass through a scanner, have every bag searched, and sometimes have to remove their shirts for “security reasons”. In addition, not only do the villagers face the constant threat of home demolitions, but the Israeli authorities impose strict bans on building permanent structures, and some existing houses are falling derelict as a result.
The problems the villagers of Al-Seefer face are further compounded by a constant fear of actions by Israeli settlers who often harass and intimidate them.These harassments have included settlers regularly throwing stones at Palestinians, making holes in their water tanks, and destroying their olive and fig trees with chemicals.
In addition, the Israeli government has a policy of “forcible transfer” for such Bedouin communities as Al-Seefer so that it can significantly expand the many existing settlements. In response to international criticism of this policy, Israel is constructing urban relocation centres (“townships”), but this is entirely unsuitable for semi-nomadic people who simply want to be able to cultivate their lands and tend their animals. Abu Khamis, the leader of another Bedouin community, has described this forcible transfer into townships as being “like Guantanamo to the Bedouin”.
One has to ask how the Israeli authorities can justify such human rights abuses based on their so-called need for “security”. Moreover, how can a peace ever be negotiated based on dignity, mutual respect, and equality as human beings when the Palestinians are being treated so appallingly under occupation?