West Bank settlement is outdoing its neighboring Bedouin village
Dozens of people in Umm al-Khayr live in grinding poverty, next to a few hundred people to whom Israel has generously supplied, in the heart of the desert, the amenities for leading a comfortable modern life.
"And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats; and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail; and the woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful form; but the man was churlish and evil in his doings ... " - 1 Samuel 25:2-3
A tall girl emerged from the doorway of the large one-story house and stood on the tiled space in front. Though palm trees and verdant bushes were all around, there was no shade and the girl stood under the broiling sun. Her clothes divided her lean figure into two: a dark blue blouse with a closed collar and long sleeves; this contrasted with the flaring white skirt that reached halfway down her shins. On her feet were rubber flip-flops. Apart from the skirt, everything about her was dark, including her long brown hair loosely gathered at the back, olive skin and large eyes. She reminded me of one of the girls I had seen in the morning in the village on the other side of the fence. We stared at each other.
"How old are you?" I asked her. "I will be 7 on the 23rd of Tamuz," she replied, lifting one shoulder and tilting her pretty oval head toward it, while charmingly arching her back. "You're cute," I told her. She was silent.
I knew I should explain to her my sudden appearance next to her house - a strange woman in this small settlement where everyone surely knows everyone else. "I'm just on an outing here," I said embarrassedly. "I wanted to see your place. I'm from Jerusalem."
She said nothing. "Do you live here?" I asked. "Yes," she replied. "And what's it like, do you feel good here?" Another stupid question. She gave me a quizzical look and said nothing. "Where do you go to school?" I asked her, trying to find a thread that would connect us across the garden and yard between us. "In Susya," she said - the neighboring settlement. Her reply reminded me where I was and snapped me out of the vacant state of mind I had fallen into after the electric gate of the settlement of Carmel, the little girl's home, let me in a little while before. "Shalom," I said, then went back to the car and hightailed it out of there, first along the access road leading from the house, then onto the street and out of the settlement.
I didn't know anyone yet in Carmel, a gated community south of Hebron in the West Bank. I had entered alone, and after driving once and then twice through its three streets, or maybe four or five, I lapsed into a kind of reverie brought on by my increasingly surrealistic surroundings. No living creature - neither man, woman, nor child, neither dog nor even a stray cat - could be seen on the clean, tidy streets and tiled sidewalks that curve into convenient parking bays. The garbage bins, too, stand implacably in their appointed places, and on both sides are handsome homes with red-tile roofs, most of them nestling amid lush green lawns, trees and bushes.
The streets end at a no-man's-land that circles the settlement, demarcated by a barbed-wire fence. On the other, eastern side of one section of the fence, and almost abutting it, are large tents, tin shacks, lean-tos and makeshift goat pens. Between them, walking or running, were boys, girls, women and teenagers. They are from the Hadaleen Bedouin tribe, next to whose meager dwellings Carmel was established some 30 years ago.
Since then the settlement has taken root and grown. It is now expanding again and continuing to usurp the land of its neighbors, who lived at the site decades before the settlers arrived. Amid the desert vastness, the settlers craved precisely this piece of land. The charming little girl I encountered that day was born and raised there, and my faltering conversation with her next to her house - from which neither tin shacks nor tents are visible - hurtled me back to reality.
Right next to the stately country homes - complete with air-conditioning, drip-irrigation gardens and goldfish ponds - a few extended families including old men, old women and infants live in dwellings made of tin, cloth and plastic siding, though there are a few cinder-block structures, too. They tread on broken, barren ground. They have no running water. They are not connected to the power grid that lights up every settlement and outpost in this remote region. They have no access road.
To get to them, take the asphalt road leading to Carmel's large chicken coops that abut the Bedouin site on the north, and turn off amid the rocks and potholes. Then drive until you see them, "the two clusters of Bedouin," as they are described in an official Defense Ministry document (see box ). Dozens of people live here in grinding poverty, next to a few hundred people to whom Israel has generously supplied, in the heart of the desert, the amenities for leading a comfortable modern life.
Why were they connected in this way - that is, the settlers to the Bedouin? Are there no other places in these expanses for settlement? There is only one reason: They want the Bedouin to leave. They, the settlers. They, the State of Israel. They, us, the people of the State of Israel, all of us. Because the settlers are not alone: Behind them are the powerful, sophisticated forces of a whole country, our country, propelled by its army, laws and all the mechanisms of government that make the Bedouin's lives so unbearable that they will finally get out.
Demolition order for a stove
The families in the Bedouin hamlet of Umm al-Khayr came here more than 60 years ago after Israel expelled them from the Arad Rift to Jordan. After wandering about, they settled in this arid desert region known as the South Hebron Hills. They acquired the land from residents of the nearby town of Yata in return for camels or money - each family and its story, each family and the legal papers it has or doesn't have.
People have lived here like this for generations, and no government authority was ever strict with them about ownership. In any case, no one disputes the fact that they were here, in their desert home, when Israel reached them for the second time, after the war in 1967. Still, the state and its citizens didn't crave their land immediately.
The Bedouin went on living as before for 14 more years until in 1981, when, after decisions by officials, committees and ministers, Carmel arose next to them. As the settlement developed and expanded, so too did its hold on land where the Bedouin lived or grazed their sheep and goats. With the settlers came the infrastructure for electricity, water and sewage, reaching the fence. A few years later, military orders began to rain down on the other side of the fence.
Almost every structure here, even the small lavatories built recently, has a stop-work or demolition order hanging over it. All the orders are based on Article 38 of the Towns, Villages and Buildings Planning Law, which states: "If the local committee or the district planning committee discovers that the construction of any land [sic] or the construction of a building is being executed without a permit or contrary to what a permit stipulates or contrary to valid regulations, orders and directives, or contrary to any approved planning and/or construction project, the relevant committee or its chairman, or any official authorized to act in its name, shall issue an operative warning against the owner, the contractor, the possessor and the foreman .... In particular, the warning shall contain a demand to remove, demolish or change the building or work or to desist from using the said land and to desist from further construction activity."
In short, all the violations that the law - promulgated by a state that considers itself law-abiding, a properly administered state in a region of backward countries and despotic regimes - sought to terminate via demolitions, changes and stop-work orders were apparently perpetrated by the Bedouin. From tent to urinal, from lean-to to wood-burning outdoor stove, everything here was built illegally, without planning and contrary to regulations, orders and directives. Accordingly, the owners and/or holders of these "assets" received detailed orders citing section and plot numbers - even in this forlorn area there are lawfully measured parcels of land - along with type and size of structure.
One such order, for example, refers to "a tent made of iron poles with a cloth roof and a tent made of iron poles with a total area of 70 square meters." Another order challenges the legality of a lavatory - "a tin structure of two square meters" - and of two small tents "with an area of 12 square meters and six square meters." A third, incredibly, takes issue with "a structure made of stone that serves as a tabun," a wood-burning outdoor stove.
That last injunction, issued a year ago, was a stop-work order. But the tabun had been built many years earlier and had been in constant use by a family living nearby. So what did the order mean? According to the stove's owner, it was the family's bad luck that the baking aroma, which is sometimes carried by the wind, irritated the noses of the residents of the new neighborhood in Carmel.
So the settlers took a series of measures. First they threatened their neighbors and made demands, then they broke the structure's clay vessels, then they turned to the state. The state acceded and issued an order from "the Civil Administration for the Judea and Samaria region, Supreme Planning Council, subcommittee for supervision." In other words, a standard order representing a whole hierarchy of authorities that the state has ostensibly made responsible for maintaining law and order in the occupied territories. But these authorities, like the laws themselves, are designed to serve the material and ideological interests of a certain segment of the population who are the authorities' agents and who, for more than four decades, have been implementing every government's annexationist policies in the West Bank. In Umm al-Khayr the tabun and most structures are still standing because they are the subjects of legal proceedings - lengthy, expensive and absurd - that have been going on for years. But every so often the orders are carried out. The last time was two months ago, on the morning of September 8. People from the Civil Administration arrived at Umm al-Khayr with a bulldozer, and soldiers demolished three of the structures previously mentioned: the lavatory, a tent and a tin shack that was home to a family of 10. The wreckers told the villagers they would be back soon for another round of destruction.
Some structures have been demolished once, twice or three times and then rebuilt. The inhabitants refuse to leave. The settlers, acting as if the Bedouin aren't there, continue to create facts on the ground. And it's all sanctioned by law - the state has allotted the settlers large tracts, marked by blue lines on the maps as the regulations require, and the state and its army help the settlers entrench their grip on the land.
So the Bedouin are brutally victimized. Their homes are demolished, the concrete sides of their water cistern are cracked, their fence around a meager plot they are working despite the drought is ripped out, and their shepherds are driven off. Some of these acts are perpetrated by the authorities and the army, some by the settlers. Everything is done openly and is documented on film, though few eyes seek to view the results.
Closed military area
At the settlement of Carmel, why is it that on one side of the fence, roads, homes and public institutions have been built and gardens planted, while on the other side even a stone stove and tin-hut lavatory are fated to be destroyed? Is everything built on one side legal and everything built on the other side illegal? In a word, yes. Precisely for this reason, during Israel's rule in the West Bank, an array of judicial, legislative and planning tools have been perfected: to legalize - in advance or retroactively - Israel's civilian takeover of 43 percent of the West Bank. No less, maybe more.
Carmel is just one example, a good one. First the land was grabbed in a "military seizure" order; then, in January 1981, a Nahal paramilitary outpost was set up there. Then the outpost was "civilianized." The land itself had already been "civilianized" earlier. At the end of 1979, assessors and surveyors assigned the area a new status - "state land" - which, in total contradiction to the international law that applies to occupied territories, koshered Israeli civilian settlement in an area in which the army is sovereign. Most settlements in the West Bank then received the same validation.
The areas designated as state land are made available only to Jews, and they are distributed generously. The land controlled by the settlements extends far beyond their built-up areas and is many times the size of the settlement itself. In Carmel, for example, the built-up area constitutes only one-eighth of the land allotted to the settlement. This "jurisdiction area" has long, grasping tentacles - as can be seen in Civil Administration data - all of it classified in a special order as a "closed military zone."
Closed to civilians? No. Like all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it's open to every Israeli, civilian or soldier, and to whoever "is eligible to immigrate to Israel under the provisions of the Law of Return or possesses a valid entry visa to Israel." It's closed to all other human beings. Above all, it's closed to the Bedouin of Umm al-Khayr, who are not Israelis and are not eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return and don't have an entry visa to the Jewish state. So these people, who have lived here all their lives, are having more and more problems residing in their dwellings - which are designated for demolition. And they're also having problems grazing their sheep, their main source of livelihood. The last time I visited the village I saw a herd of goats returning in the heat of day from pasture. I watched them from afar as they took a very long, twisting path. The shorter route passed the spot where I was standing, but here, in the middle of nowhere, there is a standard, albeit tilting, road sign that states: "No entry." To whom is the sign conveying this information in this wasteland? Someone who must have wondered the same thing pasted the picture of a goat on the sign. In other words, from this point on there is no passage for herders and their animals.
Yes, this empty zone, a long way from Carmel's latest new homes, is in the settlement's area of jurisdiction. This year, on Tu Bishvat (Jewish Arbor Day ), the settlers planted a few trees and set out wooden tables and benches for anyone who wished to relax here, precisely here. The result is that the shepherds and goatherds must take another wider bypass in addition to the bypasses the built-up area and fence already impose on them.
It's here that the main violent confrontations have been taking place. Because there is no fence in this zone, the settlers and army show the Bedouin their limits by shouting, pushing and kicking. These actions can be seen in visits to the area or in photos and videos on the Internet.
An idyllic situation, at first
I returned to Carmel a week later - this time, at my request, as an invited guest. My host, Ron Tzurel, received me with genuine cordiality. He has lived in the settlement from its inception and in 1979 worked for a short time with the surveyors who delineated the "state land" where his home was later built. His house is one of the closest to the fence and thus to the Bedouin's tents and tin shacks. Their desolate soil abuts his garden and he is friendly with a few of them, speaks their language and helps them out occasionally. He says he is grieved by their plight and wants to see their conditions improved.
In the beginning the situation was idyllic, Tzurel told me. The Bedouin worked in the settlement and earned a decent wage; the settlers even hooked them up to their water system. But long ago something bad happened. A Bedouin man named Ibrahim was arrested on suspicion of doing something prohibited. He never returned to his family in Umm al-Khayr, and to this day Tzurel doesn't know what Ibrahim allegedly did. In any event, the water supply to the Bedouin was cut off and that was the end of the neighborly relations.
Now, years later, all we hear - and see - from the Bedouin across the fence are complaints about harassment by the army and settlers. But Tzurel is a believing Jew and the return of the Jewish people to their land is for him an auspicious development, a great and joyful event. So it's inconceivable, he says, that it should entail injustice - there is room here for both Carmel's residents and the Bedouin.
Indeed, from his big living-room door that opens onto the garden, the desert's endless vistas are visible beyond the Bedouin's nearby hovels. He didn't ask why the Bedouin don't move there and I didn't ask him why he had come to this particular place. I did ask him about the settlement's new neighborhood, which is also visible from his house and which is causing the Bedouin further problems. He replied by citing a fact about which there's no doubt: The neighborhood was built legally, within Carmel's area of jurisdiction.
Tzurel is both a law-abiding man and a visionary; the two traits sit very well together here, from his viewpoint and to his satisfaction. The state gave the settlement this land and it must be settled with as many Jews as possible. That's the great vision, the dream that is coming true. And it's coming true here on both sides of the Green Line, which is unmarked and unknown in this part of the country.
My affable host showed me this clearly when he drove me in his pickup to see the area's agricultural wonders, from the cowshed run jointly by the settlements of Carmel and Ma'on, to the crops grown jointly by the settlements of Carmel, Ma'on and Beit Yatir. The cowshed is to the north of the vanished Green Line, atop a hill between Ma'on and Carmel; the fields stretch out to the south of the line in the Arad Rift.
The settlers have developed a model farm on both sides of the irrelevant line. The cowshed - clean, spacious and state-of-the-art - produces millions of liters of milk a year. Using an innovative method that treats the cows' solid and liquid wastes, it also produces high-quality compost to be used as fertilizer. The milk is marketed by Israel's giant Tnuva cooperative. The compost is used mainly to fertilize the fields of the three settlements in the Arad Rift. The fields are worked magnificently and are saturation-irrigated with water from purified ponds, originating in the liquid sewage of the nearby city of Arad.
Tzurel showed me all this during the long tour he gave me. He was proud but not arrogant. He's a dyed-in-the-wool farmer and highly knowledgeable, and his explanations were clear and interesting. In the Arad Rift he also pointed out the Bedouin tent encampments scattered at the fields' edges. With his accustomed sincerity he told me that the fields had been given to him and his colleagues in the Nahal group back at the end of the 1970s, to place these areas in Jewish hands and prevent the Bedouin from taking them over. They were then also given the land on the other side of the Green Line, because that's where they chose to settle, where they believe to be the site of the biblical settlement of Carmel. They chose to build their homes in the conquered territories, which they believe were given to the Jewish people, together with the whole land.
The result, as I could clearly see, is that they now have a hold, to their hearts' and spirits' content, on both sides of the Green Line. As for the deceptive, abstract line, it has been erased, it no longer exists - not only in their view but in the situation on the ground.
The dairy products and the fruit of the land are marketed by Israeli companies, and no boycott can separate them from the rest of the fruit of the land, while the Bedouin are being evicted. It's all part of one policy, consistent and systematic. One state rules here in full and its ways have not changed over the years. They are constantly fine-tuned and have long since made a laughingstock of the "peace process" and its stages, from Oslo to the various road maps.
On that day, in the company of Ron Tzurel, I felt defeated, but above all, I was forced to open my eyes. What you see in the land of the settlers, you don't have to see from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And even if you know what's there it's easy and convenient to ignore it. That was the main lesson I learned that day.
The second lesson is much harder to articulate. It came to me gradually, without coming fully into focus, when, after the tour, we chatted in Tzurel's living room. We listened to each other politely and patiently. Ron and two of his daughters, who at some point hesitatingly joined us, tried to persuade me in pleasant tones that, contrary to my hard-and-fast opinion, no gulf separates us. They are good, decent folk and advocate the same humane values as I do.
They are not racists, they are not Arab haters, and most of all, they are not extremists or zealots. This they took pains to emphasize. It's clear that they're genuinely sorry that I and many other Israelis refuse to see this and instead denounce and shun them.
I told them about the injustice against civilians in the West Bank that I have witnessed and documented for many years. They listened. Occasionally it seemed that Tzurel even grimaced with sorrow. In any event, they didn't justify those actions and didn't dispute what I said. They said something else: They simply don't know about all that. Nor does it especially interest them, Tzurel admitted. In this they are like most Israelis, he said, echoing something I had said a moment earlier. I had said that most Israelis don't know and don't want to know about these things. Well, they too are Israelis, so why do I think that the settlers are different from most Israelis? They too don't know and don't really want to know.
And I, who all this time could see from the corner of my eye the barbed-wire fence, the tents and the tin shacks on the other side, and also did not forget the military orders, the settlers and the soldiers who kick the goats and chase away the goatherds - I did not find the words to answer him on this. Because I couldn't see evil and wickedness in him, in this polite person sitting across from me at the family dining table and looking at me with his smiling, honest eyes. Suddenly I wasn't so sure I had a moral advantage over him: From my home in West Jerusalem I can't see what's happening in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, Ras al-Amud and Qalandiyah - an urban version of the things happening in the South Hebron Hills.
Like him, I too am responsible for the illegal laws of the state whose legislative and executive branches were elected by a majority of the members of my nation. The fact that he supports them and benefits from them directly, whereas I benefit indirectly, is not enough to create a moral buffer between us. He is not one of the shooters, kickers and rampagers under the army's protection, and he denounces them too.
True, those people are members of his settlement, but by the same token the dispossessors and harassers in the neighborhoods annexed to Jerusalem are residents of my city. And the Jews who turned the center of Hebron into a desolate ghost town, strewn with fences and roadblocks and filled with soldiers, bases and guard positions, are members of my nation and his nation. They're citizens of my country and his country.
So are the inhabitants of the settlements of Yitzhar and Har Bracha, outside Nablus, for whom infrastructure was built and roads paved on "state land" by the decision of an elected Israeli government "to expand settlement in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Rift Valley, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights by increasing the population of the existing communities and by establishing additional communities on state-owned land."
All according to the law, in a law-abiding state.
Source of name: Biblical
Type of settlement and organizational affiliation: Cooperative moshav, Amana (the settlement arm of the Gush Emunim movement)
Municipal affiliation: Hebron Hills
Local government decisions:
1. September 14, 1980 − approval to establish the settlement
2. July 5, 1981 − approval for a civilian settlement
Date of establishment: As a Nahal outpost, January 1981; civilian status, May 1981
Land status: State domain lands, previously under military seizure order (issued jointly with the Ma’on outpost)
Nearby outposts: None
Execution of valid detailed plans:
Plan No. 507 allows for construction of 81 residential units. Many structures do not conform to authorized plan (residential structures in a green area and trailer homes in industrial zone). There are also 15 lots.
Builder: Housing and Construction Ministry, Rural Construction Directorate, Amana
1. There are five chicken coops and agricultural structures northeast of the settlement. They are not classified as irregular because they are agricultural structures consistent with provisions of Mandatory plan that applies to this area.
2. There are two clusters of Bedouin east of the settlement.
Source: Database compiled by Brig. Gen. (res.) Baruch Spiegel