The Face of Apartheid in the West Bank
One of Israel’s proud boasts has been that there are no signs saying ‘Jews only’ or ‘Arabs only’. As we saw with the recent proposal to segregate Palestinians on buses into the West Bank, there is an inexorable movement to extend the Apartheid division of the West Bank, with its 2 different legal systems, into social or ‘petty’ apartheid. Indeed this is a natural progression.
We should not therefore be surprised by the story below where the Israeli army forced 200 Palestinians to make way for a group of settlers intent on bathing in a natural pool.
On 7 April 2015, during Passover holidays, a group of hundreds of settlers accompanied by Israeli security forces came to Birkat al-Karmil – a natural pool close to the village of al-Karmil, which lies in the southern Hebron Hills within Area A. In 2011, Yatta Municipality renovated the site, creating a park there and restoring an ancient pool at its center.
|Soldiers and settlers beside the pool. Photo: Ma’an News Agency, 7 April 2015|
B'Tselem’s investigation found that at about 2:00 P.M., hundreds of settlers arrived at the pool accompanied by dozens of soldiers, Border Police, and representatives of the Civil Administration (CA). The security forces ordered the Palestinian bathers to leave the pool and remain on the edge of the park. They allowed the settlers, however, free and exclusive use of the rest of the park. At about 5:30 P.M., the settlers and the security forces left the area.
"According to media reports, reveal that the settlers came to the pool on the initiative of the Susiya Tour and Study Center. In its publications, the center described the pool as the historical site of the Biblical settlement of Carmel and emphasized that the visit was authorized and accompanied by the military. The center reported that some 1,000 people had taken part in the tour, including Chief Military Rabbi Rafi Peretz, and that similar events have been held at the site for several years, particularly during the festivals of Sukkot and Passover.
|Park renewal work. Photo courtesy of Yatta Municipality|
According to testimonies collected by B'Tselem, when the settlers arrived at the pool there were almost 200 Palestinians there. Some were bathing in the pool, while others were relaxing in the park. Muhammad Mahaniyah, 20, a resident of Yatta, told B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash that when the settlers arrived, accompanied by the security forces, he was bathing in the pool with friends:
A Border Police officer ordered me to get out of the water quickly. At first I refused and told him that I wanted to be in the pool and had a right to be there. I said that I had no problem with the settlers swimming along with me. He threatened to use force if I didn’t get out of the water quickly, so my friends and I had no choice but to get out. The soldiers ordered the Palestinians who were around the pool to move back to the edge of the park, to stay there, and not to approach the settlers.
Ibrahim Abu Tabikh, 15, from the village of al-Karmil, told Abu Hashhash:
At about two o’clock I went to swim in the pool, which is about 500 meters from my home. When I got there, I saw groups of settlers moving towards the pool. There were dozens of soldiers and Border Police officers with them. The settlers began to undress and jump into the water. I also jumped in with my brother Muhammad, 16, and we began to swim. The settlers complained about our being in the pool and three young settlers started swimming towards us. Some soldiers intervened and asked them to move away from us. After they swam away, one of the soldiers ordered us to get out of the water. I refused and stood by the edge of the pool. Another soldier came up to me, pointed his gun at me, and shouted at me to get out of the water quickly. Muhammad and I got out of the water because I was afraid of the soldiers. As I got out, dozens of Palestinian residents around the pool shouted slogans against the settlers being there. The soldiers moved the residents away from the pool to the northern section of the park and prevented them from wandering around the park. In the meantime the settlers continued to swim while the soldiers guarded them. I stayed in the park until the settlers left at about half past five.
|Settlers at Birket al-Karmel. Photo: Nasser Nawaj’ah, B’Tselem, 7 April 2015|
During the incident, the mayor of Yatta came to the pool and protested to the CA representatives who were with the settlers. One representative informed him that the visit had been coordinated with the Palestinian DCO. B'Tselem contacted representatives of the Palestinian DCO, who denied any coordination and claimed they had submitted an official complaint to the Israeli DCO. In fact, whether the visit was coordinated is immaterial, as the Palestinian DCO is not free to refuse such requests by Israeli security forces.
This incident is yet another example of how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank. Almost any desire expressed by settlers, however capricious, is automatically facilitated at the expense of the Palestinian population. In this case, the military used its force and authority solely in order to allow settlers the pleasure of bathing at that particular location. This purpose is unjustified in its own right, and certainly cannot justify the entry of soldiers into Area A or any disruption to Palestinians’ lives.
B'Tselem wrote to the IDF Spokesperson requesting a response to the incident, including a series of detailed questions. The IDF Spokesperson replied with a laconic response that offers no explanation for the authorities' conduct in the incident.