Umm al-Khair – nonviolence resists the occupation

By EA Liz, Southern West Bank

2016 has already been a bad year for the village of Umm al-Khair.  In April, EAPPI reported that seven buildings in this South Hebron Hills community had been demolished by the Israeli army. During August, eight more were bulldozed, along with the new community centre. By early September, large parts of the village resembled an industrial scrap heap. 

Then, just as the villagers had cleared away most of the mess and replaced the community centre with a large framed tent, the bulldozers were back:  in mid-November the tent was flattened along with a small living structure that had just been finished to house a family, homeless since August. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property … is prohibited”.

Storm damaged frame-tent that residents plan to repair for the third kindergarten replacement Photo:EAPPI/Liz

Storm damaged frame-tent that residents plan to repair for the third kindergarten replacement Photo:EAPPI/Liz

“I make it look as if I don’t care about the demolitions”, says Eid Suleiman Hadaleen, “but really it’s a deep pain in my heart.”

Eid has lived all his life in Umm al-Khair (“Mother of goodness” in Arabic).  His father’s family, Bedouin from the Negev, came in 1948, forced to move north as the Israeli army invaded their desert homeland and declared it part of the new state of Israel.

“We didn’t just arrive and set up our home on this land,” says Eid’s father. “Our family paid 100 camels to the owner and you can see the records in Yatta Municipal Office.”  During the next 30 years the family bought more pasture for their flocks, allowing them to continue their peaceful semi-nomadic lifestyle.

Eid and his father Sheikh Sulaiman, Umm al-Khair Photo:EAPPI/Liz

Eid and his father Sheikh Sulaiman, Umm al-Khair Photo:EAPPI/Liz

Everything changed in 1967 when Israel occupied Palestine. First, there was just a military outpost on the hilltop of Bedouin land.  Then the army began flattening the land and building a few civilian houses. In the early 80s the military left and the first settlers moved in. “After that, the fight started in the court” says Eid.  “We could prove ownership but Israeli law declared it all state land.”

The settlement, Carmel, is illegal under international law: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” (Article 49, Fourth Geneva Convention). But Carmel has been developed extensively and now the settlers’ homes touch Umm al-Khair.

No buildings can be legally constructed in the village, however, without a permit from the Israeli authorities. But Umm al-Khair is in Area C. In Area C (which covers approximately 60% of occupied Palestine), the Israeli authorities almost never give planning permission to Palestinians  – there was a 1.5% approval rate between 2010 and 2014, according to the UN.

Siteo twice-demolished community centre, Umm al-Khair Photo:EAPPI/Liz

Site of twice-demolished community centre, Umm al-Khair Photo:EAPPI/Liz

Settlers use drones to photograph Umm al-Khair from above.  Eid explains that, recently, the Israeli Minister of the Interior visited the settlement, saw new buildings in the village and declared: “The Arab Palestinians are illegal occupiers of this land and will pay the price.” This viewpoint likely references Jewish claims to the land based on a biblical narrative.

But the villagers of Umm al-Khair are nowhere near giving up.  Their courage and resilience are impressive. They continue to graze their flocks on their own lands, even though settlers accompanied by armed soldiers have tried to stop them on many occasions, and keep trying.  “Ten years ago, we were afraid,” says Eid. “But gradually, with the help of Israeli peace activists like Ta’ayush, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’tselem, we have lost our fear.  Now, if settlers or soldiers come, we go out and film them.”

Resident looks at demolished tent used as temporary community centre, Umm al-Khair Photo:EAPPI/Liz

Resident looks at demolished tent used as temporary community centre, Umm al-Khair Photo:EAPPI/Liz

The people of Umm al-Khair are determined to maintain a functioning village and resolved to rebuild. Any new building is likely to get a demolition order from the Israeli authorities but Eid is clear about the strategy: “It’s important that donors like the EU keep giving, even if the building gets demolished. If they stop donating, it will be a big victory for the settlers, their supporters and the Israeli government.  It’s just what they want in Area C – no homes for the Palestinians, no Palestinian communities and, in the end, no Palestinians.”

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Support the people of Umm al-Khair. Remind your elected representatives that settlements:

  • are illegal under international law
  • remove Palestinians’ rights to their land and rights to earn a living
  • stand in the way of justice for the Palestinians
  • are a major obstacle to achieving peace.

There are hundreds of villages like Umm al-Khair in occupied Palestine.