Umm al-Kheir is a tiny cluster of houses and tin shacks immediately to the east of the Carmel settlement in the South Hebron Hills. There are six extended families living there, all from the Hadhalin-Jahalin hamula (clan) – about 80 persons. These families originally came from Tel Arad inside Israel (about 15-20 km to the south). Following the 1948 war, they were forced to leave their home base in Tel Arad and wander into the West Bank, east of the town of Yatta. At some point under the Jordanian rule, the Hadhalin purchased a small plot of land from Yatta landowners, on the eastern slopes overlooking the Judean Desert. Upon this plot they built several houses and grazed their flocks. At a later date during the present Israeli Occupation regime, Yatta landowners sold to Israelis some plots on the top of the same hills. This area was used to build Carmel settlement in 1981. Thus, the Hadhalin of Umm Al Kheir found themselves living adjacent to the Carmel colonists.
While Carmel flourishes and grows, and has had a new neighborhood added to it recently, the Bedouin villagers of Umm al-Kheir are victims of Israel’s consistent policy of preventing nearly any non-Israeli construction throughout Area C in the West Bank. All the structures in this locality, except the ones built during the Jordanian rule, have been either demolished already or are threatened with demolition orders. The village is not supplied with running water nor electricity, and its abject poverty is terribly and flagrantly visible (especially in view of the standard of living enjoyed by their neighbors in the settlement 20 meters away).
Furthermore, settlers of Carmel often harass the residents of Umm al Kheir. The Haghalins’ tiny grazing area borders on the new neighborhood just built south-east of Carmel. Apparently, the settlers have decided to remove the shepherds from the pasture, and to this end they repeatedly harass them. Thus, for example, on Friday afternoon March 7th, one of Carmel’s new neighborhood residents began to chase away the shepherds of Umm al Kheir and their flocks, shouting and claiming that the land is not theirs. Soon some thirty other settlers joined him and began to throw stones at the shepherds and their flocks. In the heat of this confrontation, one of the settlerss even went so far as to push to the ground a 70-year old woman from Umm Al Kheir. Army and police forces were summoned, but according to the Umm Al Kheir villagers, they did not hurry to disperse the Jewish perpetrators.
When we arrived at Umm al Kheir on the same day close to 2:30 p.m., the commotion had already died down, and the settlers had gone to their homes. Umm Al Kheir’s villagers, on the other hand, were still there, hurt and very distraught. They showed us a photocopy of the Jordanian bill of sale of the area where they reside and graze their flocks. Their real wish is to return to their ancestral lands in Tel Arad, but short of realizing this, life at Umm Al Kheir is a must as far as they are concerned. They have nowhere else to go, as all other lands in the area belong to other proprietors.
Since that Friday, we have visited Umm Al-Kheir several times. Last Friday I was there with Orly, Phil and Peter (a German journalist and Phil’s friend). This Thursday I was there with Erella. In these two visits we have found out that the police has caved in to settler demands, and is preventing the Bedouins from accessing their lands near the new neighborhood.
On Friday we went there again. Erella and myself were joined by Boaz and his son Amit. Carmel’s new neighborhood is still only sparsely populated and is outside the settlement’s perimeter fence. Since it is only a few dozen meters from the Bedouin huts to these new houses, a Bedouin-owned female donkey and its calf wandered into the neighborhood exactly when we were there. Boaz and I volunteered to go into the neighborhood and chase the animals back to their home (entry of Bedouins to do the same would not be received well by the settlers, to put it mildly). The whole affair took 3-4 minutes.
But this was enough for a settler – the same one who initiated the harassment two weeks ago – to call up two young guys on an ATV, then the settlement’s security chief, and he (needless to say) summoned the military and the police, who arrived immediately. Erella, Boaz and Amit entered a discussion with the security forces (perhaps they could add some details here). Anyway, the cops – as always – caved in to settler demands and detained all three for “further questioning regarding trespassing”. Boaz was actually taken to the police jeep, and we followed him to the Hebron police. The cops knew full well that they have no reason whatsoever to hold us, but they feel they must play up the appearance of giving the settlers what they want. At the police station Erella, Boaz and Amit spoke with the officers, and after about an hour we were on our way back to the kibbutz.