At the end of the day, we stood above the ditch that holds the road designated for Palestinians who want to travel from an enclave of three West Bank villages – Biddu, Beit Surik and Qatannah – to Ramallah. Above that road, Israeli vehicles sped smoothly along Highway 443, the high road to the capital, without the drivers even seeing the segregation road below, which is hemmed in by iron fencing and barbed wire. The Israelis on the expressway above, the Palestinians on the subterranean route below: a picture that’s worth a thousand words. Israel dubs these separation routes “fabric-of-life roads.” It sounds promising but in reality these byways are just another, monstrous product of the apartheid system.
A few hundred meters away, in Givon Hahadasha (New Givon) – and like the settlement, enclosed on all sides by iron fencing and spiky wire, and complete with electronic cameras and an electric gate – is the home of the Agrayeb family. Here the occupation looms at its most grotesque: a Palestinian family cut off from its village (Beit Ijza) in the quasi-prison of the enclave and left to live in this house-cage in the heart of a settlement, a situation that the High Court of Justice of the region’s sole democracy has termed acceptably “proportional harm.” At the conclusion of an instructive tour, the tunnel and the cage, Highway 443 and New Givon, the “proportional harm” and the “fabric-of-life roads” all spark grim, utterly depressing thoughts here in the realm of apartheid. The thoughts that arose in late afternoon on a cold, stormy winter day will long haunt us.
Since the anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence was founded in 2004, it has led hundreds of study tours to Hebron and to the South Hebron Hills, in which tens of thousands of Israelis and others have taken part. The tours, which draw about 5,000 participants a year, are aimed at the gut, and no one returns indifferent from the ghostly population-transfer quarter in Hebron or from the land of the caves whose inhabitants have been dispossessed, in the South Hebron Hills. Now the NGO is launching a new tour, analytical and insightful, of the central West Bank, which focuses on the history of the occupation from its inception down to our time.
Yehuda Shaul, 36, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, a former Haredi and an ex-combat soldier, worked for about a year and a half planning the tour, writing the texts and preparing the maps, drawing on some 40 books about the settlements and other materials found while burrowing in archives. Shaul is a superb guide along the trails of the occupation – businesslike and brimming with knowledge, not given to sloganizing. He is committed and determined but also bound by the facts, and he is articulate in Hebrew and English. His tour is currently in the pilot stage, before its official launch in a few months.
A day in the Ramallah subdistrict, from the Haredi settlement of Modi’in Ilit to the home of the young Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, in the village of Nabi Saleh, from the region of the Allon Plan to the fabric-of-life scheme – during this seven-hour journey, an unvarnished picture emerges: The goals of the occupation were determined immediately after the 1967 war. Every Israeli government since, without exception, has worked to realize them. The aim: to prevent the establishment of any Palestinian entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, by carving up the West Bank and shattering it into shards of territory. The methods have varied, but the goal remains unwavering: eternal Israeli rule.