Thyme for hope, anxiety and steadfastness

By EA Ann, Southern West Bank

Eid speaks of his community in Um al Kher: “We were rich. Now we are poor”. As Bedouin refugees from the newly-formed Israel in 1948, they bought land from Palestinian landowners in Yatta in the southern West Bank for 100 camels. At that time they had around 1,000 sheep and goats and established a thriving village. Now they only have 100 animals, and live in constant anxiety. Why?

The Israeli settlement of Carmel (illegal according to the 4th Geneva Convention) was built in 1982 on land yards from and belonging to Um al Kher. It is constantly spreading and expanding, eating up the pasture land.

Thyme plants. EAPPI/A.Davison

Thyme plants growing on the land of Um al Kher [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

In the last year there has been one source of hope. The Palestinian villagers have planted a large field of thyme, a cash crop used in the ubiquitous herb mix za’atar commonly eaten with bread and olive oil. The plants need little water, establish quickly, and can be cropped several times a year. Cash is already flowing from the first field and the plan is to plant more, as soon as funds are available.

field of thyme with Carmel to the left. EAPPI/A.Davison

Um al Kher’s field of thyme with Carmel settlement to the left [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

Za’atar, bread and olive oil. EAPPI/A.Davison

Za’atar, bread and olive oil [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

Anxiety still looms large however. Our team visited the village ten days ago on the same day Carlos, the DCO (Israeli military administrator), had been in the village taking photos. He told the villagers, “Tomorrow will be too late to talk to your lawyers”. The buildings in the village can be demolished without the authorities needing to obtain new paperwork because they are within 30m of previously demolished homes. With a security fence that surrounds the settlement and a precipitous hillside there is nowhere else to rebuild.

No structures built in Um al Kher since 1967 have Israeli planning permits. Planning permission is virtually impossible to obtain in Palestinian villages. Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem say demolitions for administrative reasons are based on “a discriminatory policy that has consistently refused planning permission to Palestinians while giving Israelis permission to set up settlements”.   Um al Kher has already suffered multiple waves of home demolitions by the Israeli authorities – the latest being in October 2014 just before the cold, wet winter. The EU quickly provided shelters for the homeless families; and judging by the photos the DCO chose to take last week, these 13 shelters will now be especially targeted for demolition.

EU shelter with its windows. EAPPI/A.Davison

One of the EU shelters in Um al Kher with its windows [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

Ten days after the DCO’s visit no demolitions have yet taken place. But Eid says of the threat: “When you eat, drink and sleep you think about it”.

We saw another villager, Tariq, removing the windows from the EU shelter he shares with his mother in order to keep them safe to be re-used. He then boarded up the windows to keep animals out.  As he said, windows are expensive. But they have now been living in a dark, airless metal box in temperatures of over 35°C for ten days.

Tariq’s house with one window removed and one boarded up. EAPPI/A.Davison

Tariq’s house with one window removed and one boarded up [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

The residents of Um al Kher are determined – Palestinians call this steadfastness “sumud”.  After the demolition, they will rebuild again. They have nowhere else to go and they don’t want to move from their land. This nonviolent but steadfast spirit of resistance is to be found in every village we visit.

The villagers of Um al Kher are expecting demolitions this month. International pressure, including that from the US State Department, has so far prevented the demolition of Susiya village nearby.

Communities elsewhere in the West Bank have not been so fortunate. The UN agency UNOCHA reported on August 18 the highest number of Palestinians made homeless in one day since 2012, and has called for an immediate freeze on demolitions in the West Bank. On August 17, 22 structures were demolished in Bedouin villages near Jerusalem, displacing 78 people, including 49 children (many of these people have now been displaced four times in four years). This was followed the next day by the demolition of 17 structures in the north Jordan valley leaving 48 people homeless, including 31 children, in temperatures up to 41°C).

The UN Secretary General has stated that the planned “relocation” of the Bedouin communities near Jerusalem would amount to forcible transfer and forced evictions, contravening Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under humanitarian law and human rights law. Are these demolitions not just as much a “provocation” as would have been that of Susiya?

Sumud – Tariq, Eid and Suleiman. EAPPI/A.Davison

“Sumud”: three of Um al Kher’s villagers – Tariq, Eid and Suleiman [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

Take action box 2

The UK, Irish and EU governments have said that demolitions are illegal and should be stopped but so far their words have failed to translate into action. We need to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives so that our voices are heard. Please consider writing to your MP (in the UK), TD (in Ireland) or MEP to tell them about your concerns and your wish to see an end to the occupation.