A wish to live in the shade

By EA Elizabeth, Southern West Bank 

Mleha is a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She has lived all her life in the village of Um al Kher, a small Bedouin community of about 130 people deep in the South Hebron Hills.

Mleha and her granddaughter Sara. Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell

Mleha and her granddaughter Sara [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

Life in this part of occupied Palestine is hard. Winters are cold, summers are hot, and the rocky hills, briefly green in spring, swiftly turn to grey in summer becoming a dry and dusty wilderness.

Mleha’s community now lives on land bought in the 1950s from the nearby Palestinian town of Yatta, having been forcibly removed by the Israeli authorities from lands in the Negev desert in southern Israel. The people of Mleha’s community depend on simple farming for their livelihood.

A view across the South Hebron Hills. Photo: EAPPI/Liv SB

A view across the South Hebron Hills [Photo: EAPPI/Liv SB]

When they first moved here life continued much as it had before, but in the 1980s, Israelis came and began building on land adjacent to Um al Kher. The settlement of Karmel had arrived. The building of settlements is illegal under Article 49 (6) of the 4th Geneva Convention which states that, “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

With the settlers came the infrastructure for modern living – electricity, water and sewage was provided by the Israeli authorities. At least it was for Karmel. It did not come for Um al Kher where electricity is from solar panels provided by Germany and water from a cistern via a small plastic pipe. What the people of Um al Kher did receive was a heavy shower of demolition or stop-work orders for almost every structure in the community because the Israeli authorities and settlers do not want them to live here.

Um al Kher, like many other Bedouin settlements in the South Hebron Hills, is in Area C of occupied Palestine, an area comprising 62% of the West Bank and home to about 300,000 Palestinians, but where the Palestinian Authority has no authority following the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Area C is under full Israeli civil and security control. If Palestinians wish to build they must obtain permits from the Israeli authorities. Less that 10% of the requested permits are granted. Consequently they build without them, then live in the certain knowledge that the buildings can be demolished by Israel at any time and with scant notice. This arbitrary demolition of Palestinian homes is forbidden under international humanitarian law (Article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention) but continues to take place. Consequently as Karmel grows, Um al Kher suffers.

Some of the homes in Um al Kher have been demolished as many as five times, even those originally built before Israel began its occupation of the West Bank in 1967. The impact is devastating. Mleha showed us her son’s home, or all that is left of it – the concrete base and a small section of one wall. Her son has a one year old daughter – Sara. Demolitions take place whether children are involved or not.

Sulieman looks across the demolition to the settlement of Karmel

Sulieman looks across the demolition to the settlement of Karmel [Photo: EAPPI/Liv SB]

The Bedouin of Um al Kher also suffer from settler violence towards their property and themselves. Even their taboun (bread oven) has been destroyed by settlers on a regular basis. Yesh Din, an Israeli volunteer organisation working to defend the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population, supports the Bedouin, urging them to report all incidents to the Israeli authorities who must, one day, stand accountable.

Looking across the barbed wire at the neat, modern houses in Karmel, Mleha’s husband Sulieman says, “I implode with anger at this situation”. He points out how quickly Israel responds to international disasters such as the earthquake in Nepal, ensuring it receives maximum press coverage for its humanitarian aid while creating humanitarian issues in the land it illegally occupies.

Mleha asks for her basic human rights to be observed: “We want to survive, to live in dignity, safety and security. I want to live in the shade in the summer and in the warmth in the winter.” Mleha appreciates the temporary metal structure in which she now lives, donated by international aid agencies, but it is like an oven at present as temperatures exceed 40o, and is bitterly cold in the winter. “I just want to live in peace with my family, in my home, in my village.”

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You can read more about Yesh Din, which works to support Bedouin communities living under threat in occupied Palestine, here.