Um al Khair (from Linda)
We stayed for two nights in (and plan to return another couple days to) a small Palestinian Bedouin community that has a settlement right on the other side of the fence. Our home there is this giant open tent overlooking the Jordan Valley with goats, sheep, chickens, cats, and children all wondering around during the day. For dinner the first night, we ripped apart bite sized pieces of freshly made traditional flat bread and dipped them into an oil extracted from goat milk which looks a lot like olive oil but has a distinctive and still tasty flavor. Our host, Hammad who Is a 24 year old University student studying English Teaching Strategies, told us that the children all have good teeth because goat milk is so good for our teeth.
After dinner, while sitting in the tent watching the waning full moon rise and listening to the Bedouin men speak of their lives and experiences, tears came into my eyes because I realized what an incredible opportunity this was. When would I ever get to be living a few days of a Bedouin lifestyle otherwise?
In 1948, when the UN Partition Plan and the end of the British Mandate led to Israel declaring independence and the Nakba, secret Zionist armies removed the Palestinians from their homes creating 700 thousand Palestinian refugees. Hammad’s ancestors were given three choices: 1) to join the Zionist military forces, 2) to leave their land with no other consequences, or 3) to stay and be killed. Many others accepted going into the military, but Hammad’s grandfather's tribe chose to leave their land with no fighting. Hammad’s grandfather sold 100 camels to buy this land and he put his original tent right here in the exact location of the tent which is our home now. But in the early 80s the settlements began to establish themselves and life here has been a struggle ever since. The Oslo Accords, signed by Rabin (Israel) and Arafat (Palestine) in 1993 and 1995, created three types of areas in the West Bank. Area A is under Palestinian administration and law enforcement, Area B is under Palestinian administration and Israeli law enforcement, and Area C is under Israeli administration and law enforcement even though it is in the Palestinian Territories. Within 5 years all three areas were supposed to have become under Palestinian administration and law enforcement, but still Israel continues to use the Accords to maintain control over Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Only 5% or the land in Area C is zoned for Palestinian development, so anything not in that 5% gets rejected. This Bedouin community is in Area C where lack of building permits is the justification behind the house demolitions. Any changes made to any house can also lead to a demolition order. This little community has already experienced over 30 demolitions (some repeated in the same home site) over the years since 2007 and only two structures which were built prior to 1994 with no changes have no demolition orders at this point. Most of the families now live in metal shacks on rebuilt on cement foundations which might still be demolished at any time. House demolitions usually occur in the middle of the night and are very frightening especially to the children. One mother choked up in tears as she described to Laurie and me the traumatic stress her 3-year old daughter developed when soldiers came to demolish their house. She would not go out of the house for 6 mos. She would only watch TV and when her mother turned off the TV, the daughter would just go to sleep. She received counseling help and seems to be doing okay now but the mother is concerned what will happen if/when her daughter experiences another demolition. Another of the mothers who works with the children during their summer vacation said that when she asked the children to draw what they want, they all drew houses. One reason our presence is helpful here is to witness in case there is a demolition, and also the settlers are often nastier and less predictable than the soldiers. Their behavior changes when internationals are here. So when the settlers on the other side of the fence see us here for a while even if/when we go away at some point, they can’t always tell whether we are here or not. Hammad said about the settlers: “We are not enemies, but they have made enemies of us.” My impression is that the settlers just want to get rid of all Palestinians so they do whatever they can in order to harass them. An offer has been made for the Bedouins to leave their land and move into one of four villages in the area where they would have the rights of Area A in exchange for giving up their land. This extended family will not do that and I can see why - it would be giving up their complete lifestyle, and as one man said, “We are happy here,” and that’s despite all the losses and harassment from the settlers and soldiers.