A court case over an oven is only one detail in the story of a village under the threat of demolition
by South Hebron Hills team, Group 50
We recently visited Um al Kher, a village in the South Hebron Hills, home to 21 Bedouin families, refugees driven away from the Negev after the 1948 war. The head of one family clan greeted us heartily. We were astonished at how close the illegal settlement of Karmel is to these Bedouin tents. The barbwire fence of the settlement is less then 10 meters away.
The contrast is striking! There are nice one-family houses, some of which are not even finished but with gardens and a rather sterile look; these sit behind the barbwire fence and right next to the Bedouin multi-family tents. Sheep, chickens, dogs and some donkeys are in animal shelters nearby the tents or running about freely.
Our team approached the incriminating oven. It is a wonderful old taboon, the traditional Bedouin mud oven in which they bake their special bread. We are just in time, for as we arrive the bread is ready. And in typical Palestinian style we are given the first warm, freshly baked loaf. Meanwhile, another inhabitant of the community has joined us. Eid, a local artist, told us that the settlers had filed complaints against the oven. Unfortunately, the winds blow the smoke from the oven to the nearest extension of the settlement. But the direction of the winds depends on the season. It is not always blowing towards the settlement. And the baking is only in the morning and evening; however, it seems it was enough to send the settlers to court.
The oven story is only one detail in a long history of injustice. We are in Area C in the West Bank. This area is under total Israeli control. The village of Um al Kher faces restricted access to water and farmland, no public services, restricted freedom of movement, constant military presence and routine harassment from settlers. And besides all of this, there are also demolition orders. Not only is the small oven a target for demolition, but much of the village as well. Bulldozers have shown up several times since 2007. The most recent home demolition was in January of this year, leaving 8 people homeless.
This Bedouin community is comprised of refugees. But they have bought this land and have the papers to prove it. However, this is of no interest to the Israeli authorities. They approved the Karmel settlement in 1981, and since then it has continuously expanded.
We return to the oven and the delicious bread. The Israeli authorities appear to have shown understanding for the alleged unhealthy smoke from the oven. The Civil Administration for the Judea and Samaria Region, Supreme Planning Council, Subcommittee for Supervision issued an order against it. This is the responsible authority for law and order. The poor oven is a threat to law and order. We wonder if a Palestinian could ever successfully complain against the cruel and unhealthy smell of the numerous factories that have been moved into the West Bank because the emissions were too unhealthy for Israeli citizens.
A couple of days later we visited the village of Wedadie located very near the industrial zone belonging to the Shim’a settlement. Here we were overwhelmed by the smell of a noxious chemical odor that provoked a headache. Inhabitants of Wedadie have not been able to file a complaint against this enterprise.
These cases are clear examples of human rights violations and the inequality in rights between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Many rights are given to Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank illegally, yet none are afforded to the local Palestinian population. There will be no equality, no liberty, no fraternity between the two peoples as long as the separation wall, settlements, and daily harassments are ongoing. Peace will continue to be elusive.