Sheep Droppings Sparks Rift Between Settlers and Bedouin

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Every morning, Yamna Hadlin wakes up before dawn in her home village of Umm al-Hir to bake pita bread for her family. She is a woman of limited financial means. Very few men in the village, which is home to the Jahalin tribe of Bedouin Arabs, draw a regular income. The women are housewives. Breakfast for the family usually consists of cheeses and pita breads warmed up in the family's wood fire oven.

A Bedouin man outside a tent where pita is baked, November 2010.Credit: Tal Cohen

The family lives in a huge stone building the size of a cave. It was built 30 years ago by Hadlin's father.

Inside, piles of ember are stored alongside sheep droppings which are used to feed the fire.

When it comes time to bake the pita bread, stones are placed in the oven and the dough is laid on top of them. It is used to bake bread that feeds 12 families who reside in the area.

Earlier this week, a four-by-four Land Rover belonging to the West Bank Civil Administration pulled up alongside the oven. An official jumped out of his vehicle to locate the perpetrator so that he could issue a demolition order. "This structure serves as a wood fire oven," the official wrote. The Civil Administration issued the order in response to pressure from residents of the nearby settlement of Carmel.

Five years ago, settlers began building large-scale home for young families. The residents began complaining about the smell emanating from the neighboring village. They said the burning sheep feces affected their quality of life. But residents of Umm al-Hir say that the real reason for their discontent is political, and that their presence is not welcome.

"To this day, I haven't seen anybody die in Carmel [from the pita baking]," said Id Hadlin, an Umm al-Hir resident. "There are no chemicals here. It's the dung of sheep. The wind doesn't even blow in their direction."

Initially, the CA offered to replace the old-fashioned oven with a new one at the expense of the state. The problem was that the newer ovens run on gas, which the villagers simply cannot afford, so they decided to continue baking their bread with animal droppings. After talks with the CA broke off, the demolition order was issued.

Kobi Kahana, who heads the Carmel local council, said in response: "We are suffering from this. The putrid smell permeates our homes. I've visited the Bedouin numerous times, but they do not notice the smell over there. Perhaps this is due to the wind. We are not harassing them just for the sake of doing it. They are just worried about the fact that [the settlement] is expanding."

The CA did not comment as of press time.

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