The smell of fresh baked bread

An EA Writes a poem as he Reflects on Demolitions in Um Al kher

Children play near ruins of demolished buildings.

Children play in the ruins after the demolitions in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

A poem by Leif Magne Helgesen, November 2014
Translation into English by Janet Holmén

was it the smell of fresh baked bread you could not stand
early that morning when you entered the village of Um al Kher
with bulldozers
military jeeps
and white cars
as if you came in peace

why did you tear down the poor peoples’ homes
and the old taboun
where they baked the village bread
year after year
for young and old

was it because of the settlement Karmel
that you built nearby
on land you stole from another people
do you want more
are you never satisfied

does it offend you that children have bread
after a night
in houses you just laid in ruins
why do you tear down
instead of building up
why wage war
instead of making peace

you came back
again and again
tore down houses and tents
so four-month-old Sarah
now just has heaven for a roof

my simple question
if God created charity
where has it gone

*Read the full background story on recent demolitions in Um al Kher.

Patience runs out in the sand

by Leif, South Hebron Hills team

Finishing building the third taboun in one week. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Finishing building the third taboun in one week. Karmel settlement is seen in the background. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

I am going from Jerusalem to our house in Yatta. It is easy to move with the local Palestinian small buses. The buses do not follow a schedule, but go once they are full. If you have to wait an hour, no one cares about it. Time is plentiful. Waiting is a part of life in the West Bank.

“I’m optimistic in the long term,” says the man next to me in the bus.

He points out that no country with such a system has ever survived in history.

Still the waiting erodes patience.

In the village of Um al Kher the taboun, a traditional outdoor oven, has given fresh bread for over fifty years. Such an oven is a focal point. A lifeline. Bread gives life. Water and bread. And some sheep, chickens and donkeys.

The land which the village is located on was bought for 100 camels after they fled in 1948 from what today is Israel. It was a high price. Since 1981, the village has been under pressure from the Israeli military and settlers. Today the price is not counted in camels. Today it is about the village and the children’s future. It’s about people’s lives.

Children play near ruins of demolished buildings.

Children play in the ruins after the demolitions in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Early on the morning of Monday 27 October, Israeli soldiers and police went into the village. They were joined by two bulldozers. Five houses were demolished as well as the taboun.

The next day, Tuesday, villagers build a new taboun to bake their bread.

The following day, Wednesday, Israeli soldiers return and destroy the new taboun.

Thursday, October 30, we drive into the village to see with your own eyes what has happened.

Almustasem Al-Hathaleen (26) tells what happened when they destroyed the houses and the oven. He believes the reason they destroyed the oven that did not have an demolition order was that the wind periodically blows against the Israeli settlement of hundred yards beyond. They do not like the smell of Palestinian bread, or the smell from the open fire in the taboun.

Photo of Almotasem

Almotasem stands with the remains of the taboun in the background as well as the Israeli settlement of Karmel. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

The neighbours have complained.

“We do not control the wind. It is beyond our control,” says Almustasem and shakes his head.

Not all Israelis are agree with what goes on. When we arrived at the village, there was a hive of activity to lay the groundwork to build new houses. Palestinians and Israeli peace activists working side by side. They sweat in the heat, and dust lies thick on the outside skin and clothing.

“I think the only solution is peace. When houses are being demolished, it destroys the heart. I am here for my own sake, and for my children’s sake, and to show that not all Israelis are dinosaurs”, says Israeli Eyal Shani who helped with the building.

Eyal Shani rebuilding homes in um al kher.

Eyal Shani, an Israeli peacemaker helps rebuild houses in Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

Eyal added that he might not live to see when there is peace between neighbours, but that someone has to start working to achieve it. He has taken a day off from his work. He hopes that one day there will be no need to do what he does.

“When children see that their home is destroyed before their eyes, it does something to them. Soon they’re teenagers. What happens to them then?” asks Eyal.

He knows that hatred grows and patience runs out. He continues to carry crushed elements of the destroyed houses to build something of that which is overthrown.

I also take a bucket and fill it with pebbles and elements of what once was a wall. Large and smaller pieces. A sweat. There is a walk in sorrow. A Via Dolarosa on the West Bank. A walk of pain at the edge of the desert.

Children stand in their demolished home.

Children stand in their destroyed house after it was demolished in Khashem ad Daraj. Two were there to witness the event. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

After a few hours in Um al Kher we drive some kilometers on bumpy roads to the village of Khashem ad Daraj. The day before they also received the visit of an bulldozer and Israeli soldiers. Some toilets, a cave, a shelter for sheep and a home was destroyed. Several more homes are under demolition orders.

Photo of tea in Khashem ad Daraj

Despite the tragic events of demolitions, the villagers of Khashem ad Daraj serve us tea to welcome us. Photo EAPPI/LM Helgesen.

We are served tea. Five children watch us. Two of them were at home when the soldiers came. The others were in school. The fear is great when strangers come to the house. They fear that soldiers will come again with guns in hand to tear down what little they have. And soon the winter will come.

*Read more about Um al Kher and its struggle to save the village taboun.

An innocent oven keeping courts and lawyers busy

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

The settlement of Karmel is located right next to the Bedouin village of Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/ G. Hember.

The settlement of Karmel is located right next to the Bedouin village of Um al Kher. Photo EAPPI/ G. Hember.

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.

The taboon oven in Um al Kher has a demolition order on it. Photo EAPPI.

The taboon oven in Um al Kher has a demolition order on it. Photo EAPPI.

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.

Shim'a Industrial Complex is built right next to the village of Wedadie. Photo EAPPI.

Shim’a Industrial Complex is built right next to the village of Wedadie. Photo EAPPI.

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.