Harassment in the south Hebron hills

December 6, 2009
Richard Kuper
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haaretzGideon Levy, Twilight Zone /The third blow 3 December 2009

This community is supported by the Villages Group two of whose activists, Erella Dunayavesky and Hamed Qawasme, were recently on an awareness and fund raising tour in the UK.

A few days before the prime minister promised to suspend construction in the territories, the orders had already been issued: Buildings, tin shacks and tents in the tiny Bedouin hamlet of Hirbet Um al-Hir, adjacent to the settlement of Carmel in the south Hebron hills, were to be demolished.

This week, representatives from the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem visited the site. A kitten lay on the rocky, arid ground, slowly dying. No one in the place gave a thought to rescuing it. Helpless, the kitten cast a desperate gaze at its surroundings. Not even the lean Shepherd dogs approached it. In another hour, maybe another day, the kitten will breathe its last anguished breath. The residents of the tiny village are helpless, too. With their last remaining strength they are clinging to the fence of the settlement of Carmel, part of which lies on their private land; clinging to the soil their father and grandfather bought after the family was forced to flee from the Negev in 1948; clinging in their tents and their tin huts and with their animals to the remainder of their land, from which Israel has for some time been threatening to evict them.

Who was here first? To whom has this private land belonged for many decades? Who was already expelled once by Israel? Whose structures are demolished if they are built without a permit? And who do you suppose can even get a permit? Questions that are as pointless as they are irrelevant here, in this obscure community in the south Hebron hills. On Monday of this week the diplomats from the U.S. consulate were struck by the injustice. They promised to help. Who knows? Maybe salvation for the residents of the hirbeh – the word means ruin – will come from them. Alongside the yellow homes of the “southern neighborhood” the settlers have laid the foundations for another group of homes. These of course will not be included in the “freeze,” because they are “building starts.” Parked next to them are an army Jeep and a settlers’ security Jeep. According to Id Hadalin, a fine-looking young Bedouin of 24 who speaks fluent, up-to-date Hebrew and also English (which he says he learned “from life”), the residents of the new neighborhood are worse than their predecessors.

How so?

“Because they are young. Because they sabotage our property and steal our animals.” Id tells of shepherds being attacked and sheep stolen, of people being struck and harassed. Complaints submitted to the Hebron police usually result in a visit by a team of police, but no one is brought to trial. And now have come the freeze orders, which Id calls “a big, big problem.”

The bleached-out land is covered with cracks. Last week there were flash floods here and farming equipment donated by the International Red Cross to till the soil and plant wheat and olives in the wadi was destroyed. The seeds were washed away. One blow after another.

Id was born here. “My head fell forward from this tent. That is what my parents told me. Most of us were born naturally, without a hospital.” Eighty-four souls live in this compound and another 70 in the expansion of the hirbeh a few hundred meters to the north. All of them are from the same family, the same tribe, the Jahalin, which lived in the Negev and was scattered to the four winds in 1948. Id’s grandfather arrived here at the beginning of the 1950s with his family and bought this land, on the remnants of which we now sit, from people in the town of Yatta.

Id’s father, Suleiman, who also speaks a good contemporary Hebrew, is far more distraught than his son. “Three times you did us bad,” he says. “The first time, in 1948. Everything went. No refugee camps were established for the Bedouin, and every tribe went its own way. We started to wander in the hills, until we got here. The Bedouin wander with their camels and everyone chases them away. Get out, get out. Even the people of Yatta are bad. They will kill for a meter of land. My father bought the whole hill from them, and now Carmel is perched on it. The second time: the Six-Day War. We all became refugees. Both in the West Bank and in Gaza, and Musa, too [Musa Abu Hashhash, a fieldworker for the human rights organization B’Tselem, who accompanied us on the visit.] At first the Israeli army was good to us and didn’t do anything to us. We stayed here and enjoyed life.

“Then, in November 1980, the first Jewish National Fund tractor entered along with a high army officer, who said: We have to cut a road to Be’er Sheva here. Everyone will benefit from the road, he said. Then they put an army base on the hill and the base stood there for five months and the first bachelor came. Actually, it was one couple and two bachelors. They started to settle and we did not say a word. The big military governor came to my father and told us: This is a military area. My father went to the mayor of Hebron, Samir Shamsh, of blessed memory, and brought the deeds that proved that this land belongs to us.

“We are stupid Bedouin. We thought the settlers would not harm us. They did groundwork here, groundwork there, Carmel grew and expanded onto our land and we said nothing. In 1992 it snowed and we saw our situation, we were totally finished, and then we started to build with cinderblocks. The settlers called in the Civil Administration and they wanted to demolish our cinderblock structures. We were served demolition orders. I went to the Civil Administration in Beit El and there they told me: Aren’t you ashamed? They are sitting on my land and building two-story homes and I will not build. That is what they said to me. I went to Faisal Husseini, of blessed memory, and he hired a lawyer for us who helped see to it that the two homes were not demolished. Afterward they demolished the two homes, one time and another time, and now they want to do it again.

“Three weeks ago, on November 11, a Civil Administration officer came with an inspector. He came to this tent where we are now sitting – this tent also exists in the pictures taken by your plane – and told us that the tent has to be demolished. This tent has been here since the 1960s. I have a transistor radio and I hear that there is a tsunami in Asia or an earthquake in Russia. From Allah. And what happens? All the countries help. And how do they help? They bring tents to rescue the people. You are a wise nation. I ask you: What kind of law tears down a tent? What kind of law issues a demolition order for a tent? What happened to this world? This world has turned completely upside down here. Tents are brought to the refugees from all the wars, and here they come to demolish the tent. To Benjamin Netanyahu I say: I am not afraid. I told the officer: If you take down the tent we will sleep on the earth and the sky will be our blanket. We will not leave. How many times does a person have to flee in his life? Carmel is on my land. They were not ashamed, and we were silent.

“They started with these orders in 1995. This is our third blow. I have more than 60 orders and it’s not finished yet. My father said: Even if this is my hill, the settlers will live here. I also am not against the army. But a civilian person like myself – will they throw me out? But the settlers are above the law. Their homes say that they are above the law. You see our distance from their fence, and now they want to throw us out completely. Is that what we deserve? A kick in the ass? But we will not budge from here. Only if there will be a massacre here like in Kafr Qasem or in Kibiya. If they take down our tent, we will put up a new one. We are Bedouin.

“We have no objection to Carmel. In the 1980s we were friends. They knew all our children. At that time they were good people. Now they want to move us. You are wiser than us. You know that everything is in the hands of the settlers. And who guards them? The army and the Civil Administration. They do the work for them. The whole nation of Israel works for the settlers.

“I heard that Netanyahu has stopped the construction now, but I don’t think they listen to Netanyahu. But only God will help us. How far will you push the Bedouin? To what abyss? To the Dead Sea? To the Red Sea?”

Twice in the past two years a few structures and tents have been demolished by the authorities. Several months ago the villagers tried to build 11 gray-brick toilets; only two remain that were not demolished, one in this compound and one in the compound opposite. They are left with one toilet for 86 people. Using old plastic boxes and tin cans, they build dovecotes, whose denizens flutter whenever a donkey snorts, a dog barks or a car passes in Carmel. Of the friendships with the settlers there remains only one righteous man in Sodom, Ron Tsurel by name, who has come to their aid. His home abuts the fence that separates the Bedouin from Carmel and they have only good things to say about him. They remember him from when he was still a bachelor. They are not even on speaking terms with all the other uninvited neighbors.

Now they know what will happen: after the stop-work orders will come the second order and then the third and then the demolition. “We are already used to it,” they say, laconically yet sadly.

A response by the Civil Administration was not available at the time of going to press.

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