Ian McEwan, John le Carré and Julian Barnes are among British authors backing impoverished Palestinian villagers against Israeli army attempts to evict them to make way for a shooting range.
They are among a coalition of 44 internationally-acclaimed writers to have signed a petition supporting the campaign of around 1,300 inhabitants of eight West Bank hamlets to remain in their homes in the run-up to a landmark court hearing next week.
The villagers – many of whom live in caves – will confront Israel’s armed forces in the country’s supreme court in Jerusalem on Monday.
They are seeking to defeat the Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) plan to demolish the primitive villages in the South Hebron Hills, where their families have lived since the 19th century.
The IDF has declared the region a closed military zone and wants to turn it into a training area called Firing Range 918. It says the move is essential to save time and money, according to a legal brief recently submitted to the supreme court.
Local inhabitants say forcing them out would destroy a traditional pastoral life-style that includes herding and growing barley and wheat.
The 44 writers – who also include five Nobel Prize winners, among them the Turkish novelist, Orhan Pamuk, as well as Philip Roth, Yann Martell and Roddy Doyle – condemn the army’s plan as “a shameful policy that must end”. Linda Grant, Nicholas Blincoe and Neil Gaiman are the other British writers to have signed the petition.
The authors’ declaration voices supports for an earlier petition signed by 25 leading Israeli writers that demanded an end to the villagers’ “unceasing harassment” by the army and Jewish settlers.
Attempts to evacuate the villages have been going on since the 1980s, residents say. The army evicted around 700 villagers in 1999. But they returned after the supreme granted them an injunction pending a final verdict.
In Jinba, a tiny village at the bottom of a steep hill whose only access road is a perilous rocky dirt track, locals accused the army of subjecting them to constant intimidation designed to make them leave.
Villagers are forced outside their homes in regular night-time raids in which soldiers check for illegal dwellers, they say. A recent incursion was said to have been accompanied by several helicopters.
Khaled Jabarin, 41, a sheep and goat farmer who lives in a shallow cave with his wife and eight children, said soldiers regularly throw stun grenades into houses in the middle of the night.
“In the last few months they have done everything to pressure us,” he told The Telegraph. “They came in a Humvee and asked us, ‘where are the bombs you are hiding?’. They don’t waken people and ask them to leave, they just throw stun grenades into the houses while everybody is sleeping. The noise is like an explosion. I said to one of the officers, ‘what effect do you think that has on the children?’
“I regard the daily harassment as a means to expel us, which isn’t any different from driving us away because of the firing zone. But I prefer to die rather than leave here and become a refugee. I was born here and so were my father and grandfather.”
In a statement responding to Mr Jabarin’s claims, an army spokesman said: “The incidents described….are not known to the IDF. The IDF operate in ‘Training ground 918’ in a professional manner, focused on preventing terrorist and criminal activities. Any deviation from the professional norms expected from the forces would event in disciplinary measures.”
Amiel Vardi, an activist in Ta’ayush, an Israeli human rights group, said the army had deliberately increased patrols in the run-up to the forthcoming court hearing. “The army wants to show now that the court case is coming up that this is very important to them,” he said. “They are turning up much more than in the past as part of a show for the court.”
(Source / 02.09.2013)