There are numerous ways in which the Israeli's justify their brutal occupation and treatment of the Palestinians. On a short visit to Atoof we were introduced to a few. The village is overlooked by the settlement of Ro’i and closed off by a deep ditch. It was dug five years ago in preparation for the Apartheid wall, which snakes illegally through the West Bank, to reach there. Since then the villagers have had their movements restricted and their every step observed. The road leading up to the ditch was previously used for land access but these days access is denied and the land neighbouring the area can not be used. If anyone attempts to go anywhere near it they risk arrest. Despite this the locals are eager for us to see the reality of this land grabbing fact on the ground.
As we reach the edge of the ditch we notice that one small area has been left undug -a space big enough to let an army jeep through. We have only been there for a few minutes when the Palestinians with us, always on the lookout, notice something we do not -soldiers moving in our direction. We calmly turn back but the jeep and its seven soldiers soon catch up with us. "What are you doing here?” they want to know and we explain that we have come to see the village as a part of our friendship and solidarity twinning project. "Do you have permission from the Israeli authorities?" -a visa does not seem to be enough for them. As they take away the Palestinians' ID card and our passports and call their commander, our gutsy Palestinian friend requests that I ask a soldier about the settlement in the distance; maybe me faking political ignorance can defuse the situation. Generally I would quote Palestinians in order to express Israeli repression but this guy does a pretty good job himself:
"What are the lights over there?" I ask innocently.
"It is like a village" comes the reply. "We have many nice villages, several in Hebron". His colleagues smirk.
"It doesn't look much like a village".
"Well, it is more like an economy, let’s say an economy".
After about 40 minutes we are released instead of being taken away for investigation. We only find out later that this is the result of our host's constant calls to the consulate -an option not available to the people of Atoof. However, they do not want to release us without a warning to leave the area immediately.
"It is for your own safety" I am told. We are responsible for your safety over there and the village is very, very dangerous. There are many terrorists there. Do you understand?".
We all understand him only too well.
There are no best case scenarios here -just two equally disturbing ones: either the Israelis are doing everything in their might to prevent anyone from witnessing the real impact of their occupation, or they have genuinely started to believe their own lies.