SermonsFiring Zone 918

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Umm al-Kher facing settler attacks, settlement expansion and a lawsuit from Karmel

This release was something I wrote up after my teammate Gabriel and I went out to the South Hebron Hills on Monday and Tuesday to fulfill our commitment to accompany Al-Fakheit school and the SUV donated by UNICEF and the government of Japan to bring the children to Al-Fakheit and Khirbet al-Majaz schools (the schools have demolition orders and the SUV has been confiscated by the Israeli military).  We were with EAPPI, Ta’ayush, and Operation Dove at the Umm al-Kher meeting.  In the end the people there were more upset that the Palestinian authority was giving a lot more aid to people in much less precarious positions than they were in.

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Umm al-Kher facing settler attacks, settlement expansion and a lawsuit from Karmel


SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Umm al-Kher facing settler attacks, settlement expansion and a lawsuit from Karmel

Umm al-Kher is a village of about 135 people from the al-Hathaleen Bedouin who fled from their original lands near the Israeli city of Arad in during the war of 1948 to the South Hebron Hills.  They subsequently suffered the further bad luck of having the Israeli settlement of Karmel move next door in the early 1980s.  Water pipes and electricity run through their land to the settlement, but the Israeli Civil Administration does not allow residents of Umm al-Kher are to connect to the grid.  They use solar panels for electricity and firewood, goat and sheep dung to fuel their stoves.  They derive almost all their income from their flocks.

CPTers went out to Umm al-Kher on 3 February with a representative of the United Nations because of some recent attacks by Karmel settlers on the villagers.  Since men of the village had received threats of arrest if they got into altercations again with the settlers, women had been taking the sheep and goats to their grazing land, but settlers had attacked them as well.

At issue is the route along which the villagers had been herding their flocks to the grazing field.  Settlers had prevented the shepherds from taking a direct route across a hilltop, planting trees as a way of staking a claim to it.  (A representative of the Israeli group, Ta’ayush, at the meeting pointed out that Karmel is planning on establishing a new neighborhood there, so these trees will be uprooted if they succeed in doing so.)  The shepherds must take a forty-minute detour if they cannot cross the hilltop, which is harmful to their pregnant ewes; one pregnant ewe had died after making the longer walk.

The community’s taboun oven has also long been a target of the Karmel settlers’ anger, because they object to the smoke emitted when the residents of Umm al-Kher are baking bread.  The settlers have tried to destroy the taboun several times and are currently suing the community for 100,000 shekels for the damage they say the smoke is causing to their health.  As the U.N. representatives were discussing options that might make the taboun more acceptable, Ta’ayush members strongly backed the villagers, who did not want to switch to a source of fuel for which they would have to pay.   The Ta’ayush activists asserted that the taboun had been there long before Karmel had, and Umm al-Kher should not have to make compromises to accommodate the settlers.

An Umm al-Kher resident noted that one of the Karmel settlers who has committed attacks on community before is a police officer at the settlement of Kiryat Arba, which borders Hebron.  “I see him leaving for work every morning in his police uniform,” he said.  “I know if I respond to his attacks, I would be charged with assaulting a police officer.”

Despite these difficulties, the residents of Umm al-Kheir have decided they do not need internationals living in their village all the time, but rather would prefer they be available on an on-call basis. (An EAPPI unit lives in Yatta and Operation Dove lives in At-Tuwani.  CPT spends an overnight in the South Hebron Hills once a week.)  The court has recognized their right to access their grazing lands and they do not believe that the lawsuit against the taboun will succeed.  However, when one looks at its dwellings made of recycled materials and compares them to the expanding, western-style housing of Karmel, its situation seems precarious indeed.

[Note: This 2009 video of home demolitions in Umm al-Kher profiles Ta’ayush activist Ezra Nawi, who was present and providing translation for Umm Al-Kheir residents at the 3 February 2014 meeting.]

Some call it Firing Zone 918, I call them Jinba, Al Fakheit. . .

Some call it Firing Zone 918, I call it Jinba, Al Fakheit, Isfey, al Fakheit, al Majaz, at Tabban, Jinba, Mirkez,  Halaweh and Khallet Athaba’

On Saturday evening Kathy, Gabriel and I took a taxi to Yatta to spend the night with the family of Mufid, who usually drives people from Christian Peacemaker Teams, the International Solidarity Movement and The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel to visit schools in an area that Israel calls Firing Zone 918. We had fun with Mufid’s children, especially LeamIMG_9317

IMG_9325Her big sister Leal and brother Odai taught me the Arabic alphabet.

Then the next morning we went out with another driver (not sure why we didn’t go with Mufid) in a car that the Japanese government donated through Unicef to pick up kids to take them to Al-Fakheit IMG_9334School. These kids live in very tiny villages far away from Yatta, so they either had to move to Yatta to stay with relatives to go to school or just not go to school. But now they have schools in Jinba and Al-Fahkheit they can go to. CPT, ISM and EAPPI ride with the driver into the area these villages are because the Israeli military does not want these villages or schools to be there and causes problems for the drivers.

IMG_9329Sunday morning, they were stopping drivers ahead of us, and our driver was nervous. The soldier told all of us to get out of the car. The soldier started asking the driver questions in Hebrew, and the driver said he didn’t speak Hebrew. So they started talking to him REALLY LOUD in Hebrew. I wanted to encourage them to think about rainbows but Kathy said she didn’t think it was appropriate. Gabriel said that the car had diplomatic plates and that Unicef wanted us to accompany the car, so the soldiers finally let us through.

Then we picked up the children–seven for the first trip. The driver IMG_9333makes three trips to get them all to the school. While the children waited for the other children and the teachers to get Al Fakheit, they played soccer.IMG_9335 Their ball didn’t have much air in it, and they built their goalposts out of these rocks, but they still had a lot of fun.



When the teachers got to the school, all the students line up according to what grade they were in and did exercises.


Road to Jinba

IMG_9365Then Kathy and Gabriel walked a long way to visit the school at Jinba that was built for younger children. Kathy fell on her face and hurt her knee.


School at Jinba

The school at Jinba is smaller than the one at Al Fakheit, and only younger children go there.

I hope nothing bad happens to Jinba, Al Fakheit, Isfey, al Fakheit, al Majaz, at Tabban, Jinba, Mirkez,  Halaweh and Khallet Athaba’. I hope that these schools an the homes and wells and caves and animal pens are not destroyed. I also hope that the Israeli military stops practicing bombing and shooting near these villages, because it’s scary for the children and animals. The Israeli government said one of the reasons that all the people here have to move (except for the Israelis living in the area) is that it is a nature reserve, and the wild animals and plants need to be protected, but how can you protect plants and animals if you’re bombing and shooting? I talked to a gazelle about it and she agreed with me that that’s just silly.


Looking at the South Hebron Hills from the school at Al Fakheit

Well that’s all for now. Back to doing school patrol in Hebron tomorrow!