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Violent Hebron outpost expands at 'phenomenal' rate

Nov. 12, 2013 10:48 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 11, 2015 6:14 P.M.)
A general view of the south Hebron hills.(Charlie Hoyle)
By: Charlie Hoyle

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- An illegal Israeli outpost in the south Hebron hills, notorious for incidents of violence against Palestinians, has grown at a "phenomenal rate" since the beginning of October, according to a peace group working in the area.

Operation Dove on Monday said that activists from the grassroots Taayush movement entered an area near the Havot Maon outpost this week to document illegal expansion and demand that Israeli authorities intervene.

The group documented a "large construction site" in the area, before being prevented from filming by settlers and Israeli forces, a statement said.

Documentation of the "entire construction process" was not possible due to woods which obscure a full view.

Local villagers and international observers have since Oct. 6 documented diggers entering the outpost, and witnesses say they have seen an excavator digging up land.

"Since the beginning of October they work daily. We have noticed changes," a member of Operation Dove told Ma'an.

Established in 1997, Havot Maon is home to around 200 settlers and consists of at least 63 structures. Like other outposts in the south Hebron hills, Havat Maon was established without building plans and land allocation, but continues to grow.

An Israeli official from the District Coordination Office office responsible for infrastructure in Hebron and the south Hebron hills told Operation Dove that DCO officers inspected the area and did not see any construction work, the group said.

Dror Etkes, an expert on Israeli settlements and land policy in the West Bank, told Ma'an that most Israeli outposts are constantly expanding, and have been for decades.

"This is nothing new. It is something embedded in the system. The Israeli government realized that they better give up the attempt, or response, to enforce the law to allow settlers to expand. If they would enforce the law that means less land would be taken by settlers."

'Stronghold of extremism'

Located in Area C, an area of the West Bank under full Israeli security and administrative control, Havat Maon outpost has an adverse affect on local Palestinian communities through a combination of physical violence and restrictions on movement.

Settlers regularly prevent villagers in neighboring al-Tuwani from grazing their livestock and risk violent attacks if they approach areas near the outpost.

Since the beginning of 2013, Operation Dove has documented 13 incidents of property damage by settlers, 13 violent attacks against Palestinians and 17 cases of intimidation against Palestinians and international observers.

Children from the villages of Tuba and Maghayir al-Abeed require an Israeli military escort to protect them from settler attacks while walking to school, and Operation Dove volunteers regularly accompany shepherds in the area as masked settlers often attack them with sticks and iron bars.

"This is one of the most radical settlements in the West Bank," Etkes says.

"More settlers will be strengthening violent trends and more violent incidents, this is what is likely to happen in this area," he said, adding that the outpost is known to be a stronghold of extremism.

Qamar Mashriqi, head of the legal department for Rabbis for Human Rights, says despite the illegal expansion of the outpost, the main problem facing surrounding Palestinian communities is the high incidence of violence.

"It is outstanding the violence that is going on, the level is so high," she told Ma'an. The Israeli army does not enforce the law against the settlers and does not dare demolish the illegals structures, she says.

"It's another way that guarantees that Area C is just for settlers, illegally or legally, it's just the same, especially in the south Hebron hills."

Located near the Green Line, Mashriqi says that a combination of illegal outposts, designated firing zones, and demolition orders aim to force the Palestinian community of around 4,000 people out of the south Hebron hills to make it a "Jewish area."

Operation Dove says that the expansion of illegal outposts is taking place at a time when Palestinian villages in Area C suffer from Israeli policies of demolition orders and building restrictions.

In 2012, 540 Palestinian structures were demolished in Area C due to a lack of Israeli-issued permits, displacing 815 people, over half children, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says.

Less than 1 percent of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development, while some 135 settlements and over 100 outposts have been built in the same area.
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