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Pushing Palestinians off their land — by pumping sewage onto it

Not content with ongoing demolitions in Umm al-Kheir and the destruction of its taboun, settlers in nearby Carmel have resorted to piping their waste onto the land belonging to the village.

By Yossi Gurvitz, for Yesh Din

A delegation from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence helps rebuild a demolished home in the Palestinian village of Umm el-Kheir, July 12, 2016. The Israeli settlement of Carmel is seen in the background. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

A delegation from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence helps rebuild a demolished home in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Kheir, July 12, 2016. The Israeli settlement of Carmel is seen in the background. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

The usual problem with reporting on what happens in the West Bank is lens width, an essential physical problem: you want to focus on the details, and hence need to narrow the lens. Yet the details themselves are part of a greater picture, demanding a wider lens.

On the face of it, what happened in Umm al-Kheir in the south Hebron Hills in December 2016 is a minor event — barely worth mentioning. A sewage pipe was built in the settlement of Carmel, causing the settlement’s waste to pour directly into land belonging to the Palestinian village of Umm al-Kheir. Technically, it’s nothing more than an insignificant squabble between neighbors.

Except these aren’t your typical neighbors. Umm al-Kheir was built in the 1960s by Bedouin refugees who were expelled in 1948 from the Tel Arad region. Unfortunately for them, they were re-occupied by Israel in 1967. The village is located in Area C, which means it is under full Israeli military and civil control. One might have expected that Israel would invest in the place, since the villagers are under its authority, and since Israel, as is well known, is not an apartheid state.

Of course, that did not actually happen. Israel didn’t much care for the small Palestinian village, and in 1981 the settlement of Carmel was built nearby. Carmel is supposedly sitting where Nabal the Carmelite (see 1 Samuel 25:3) used to live.

So the Palestinians lived there first? No matter. The government – in the guise of the Civil Administration – is on the side of the invaders. Umm al-Kheir had a taboun: traditional oven built from mud and hay, which was used by the villagers to bake bread.

A Palestinian family sits in the remains of their demolished home in the West Bank village of Umm el-Kheir, South Hebron Hills, April 6, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

A Palestinian family sits in the remains of their demolished home in the West Bank village of Umm el-Kheir, South Hebron Hills, April 6, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

In order for it to function, the taboun had to operate at all times. The smell emanating from it was disliked by the residents of Carmel, and they demanded its demolition, claiming it was an illegal structure. The villagers began a legal process, and managed to get an order delaying the demolition.

The legal process was apparently too slow for the opponents of the taboun, and in November 2013 a group of Israelis came from the direction of Carmel – escorted, of course, by IDF soldiers – and attempted to extinguish the oven’s fire. They failed to do so, but several days later an unknown person came at night and poured a bucket of water into the taboun.

I visited Umm al-Kheir several weeks after the incident. You can see the taboun yourselves — it’s not quite the Tower of Babel. A small hay and mud construct. And here’s the thing: it’s no longer there. The Civil Administration – the whitewashed name Israel gave to what was once known as the Military Government – demolished it upon receiving legal authorization, several months after it was photographed.

The Civil Administration didn’t stop there: throughout 2016, its representatives came to Umm al-Kheir four separate times, demolishing a total of 16 structures. The last raid took place in February, which left two structures demolished.

And yet, the residents hold on to the land with everything they have, and for a very simple reason: they have nowhere else to go. Even though they live in Area C under the authority of the Israeli government, and even though they were there before Israel occupied the area, they have been offered nothing. Prime Minister Netanyahu spent not a single meeting, not to mention 60% of his time (as his chief of staff said he did for Amona), dealing with the plight of 160 human beings.

Since July 2016, report the villagers, drones have been buzzing above Umm al-Kheir, photographing every attempt by the villagers to build anything. If something is built, it is quickly demolished. These demolitions do not interest the Israeli media, and one would be hard pressed to find interviews with people whose lives are actually destroyed because someone else covets their land.

A Palestinian family sits in the remains of their demolished home in the West Bank village of Umm al-Kheir, April 6, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

A Palestinian family sits in the remains of their demolished home in the West Bank village of Umm al-Kheir, April 6, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

But they have nowhere to go, so they stay there. And Carmel doesn’t want them there. So what do you do? After the demolitions, the invasions, the threats, the assaults, and the dread, comes the pollution: Carmel’s sewage simply seeps into the land of the natives.

This isn’t an accident. This isn’t one tidbit in a series of unrelated events. This is the latest piece in a pattern that has been slowly built over 30 years — a pattern in which land grabbers and Civil Administration personnel mix with each other until one can no longer tell them apart. A pattern which, when completed, will leave no remnants of a village that existed almost 20 years before Carmel was ever built. The goal is dispossession of non-Jews of their land, and every trick will do. From this standpoint, the Umm al-Kheir story is a microcosm of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

This case is particularly easy to ignore, since the people living in Umm al-Kheir are so different from us. They are villagers verging on nomads. You are reading this text on a computer or a smartphone; they need a taboun fueled with animal dung to bake their bread. We have all grown up with the narrative of inevitable progress, claiming that such a way of life must make way for the Western way of life. We are witnessing an allegedly natural process.

Only there is nothing natural about it: it is wholly the result of decisions made by human beings, decisions whose purpose is to dispossess one group of human beings for the benefit of others. And when all is said and done, if we truly believe in the extremely radical idea that all human beings possess equal rights, then we cannot allow our cultural biases destroy the lives of 160 people. This means we must not stay silent.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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    COMMENTS

    1. carmen

      There is a special place in hell for the willful polution of land and drinking water. There is, with few exceptions, nothing as disgusting and filthy as the zionist settler trash attempting to pass for human beings. There will be a reckoning someday soon.

      Reply to Comment
      • Firentis

        Dehumanize much?

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          dehumanize: settler actions towards palestinians on palestinian land for decades. Awesome example of irony Firentis.

          Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            “nothing as disgusting and filthy as the zionist settler trash attempting to pass for human beings”

            dehumanize much?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            Documentary about the Zionist settlers: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5278914/

            People can decide for themselves what the Zionist settlers are. Also watch “Five Broken Cameras”.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            You mean people can decide for themselves whether they are human or not? You mean someone can decide that someone else isn’t human? Dehumanize much?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “You mean someone can decide that someone else isn’t human?”

            The settlers do this all the time to Arabs living in the West Bank, Firentis. Are you blind?

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            “nothing as disgusting and filthy as the zionist settler trash attempting to pass for human beings”

            Carmen explicitly dehumanized human beings on this page and your responses to me pointing that out are whataboutery. Apparently dehumanizing the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria is entirely acceptable among the progressive, human rights, enlightened, liberal crowd.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I responded to your reply to Bruce, not to your reply to Carmen. I don’t think Carmen’s choice of words was the best and I don’t agree with putting it that way but I understand her anger. I think what she means to say (though I am not speaking “for” her), in a less angry sort of way, is that the way the settlers cloak themselves in self-righteousness and victimhood and regard themselves as special, higher human beings is nauseating in the light of the (blatantly dehumanizing) contempt and cruelty with which they treat other human beings. The metaphor of them dumping their sewage on utterly defenseless people is illuminating. And it takes the anti-Semitizing cake that Yossi Gurvitz gets called an anti-Semite for pointing it out.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Firentis/AJew/Gustav – SOS and sooner rather than later too. You go back to your old tricks like a dog returns to its vomit. You chose to copy part of my post for dramatic effect. “There is, with few exceptions” was left off and only “nothing as disgusting and filthy as the zionist settler trash attempting to pass for human beings.” You’re as predictable as the blue rinse on netanyahu’s head. Pffft.

            Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      Jews poisoning the wells again, huh? Or maybe the Jews are just dumping raw sewage on land adjacent to their village the same way that Palestinians do? Yossi has had some scrapes in the past for making anti-Semitic arguments and was off of +972 for a while. Maybe too soon to bring him back on, since the slightly deranged set of grievances he harbors toward former co-religionists still seem to showing…

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Jews poisoning the wells again, huh?”

        Utterly shameless anti-Semitizing. You definitely have, as Yossi says, a lens problem.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      I just watched Abby Martin’s wonderful expose on Israel’s treatment of people of African descent. The last part, in which a young Ethiopian Jewish woman is interviewed by Abby brought tears to my eyes. It is both shocking and, at the same time, not at all surprising.

      You can watch it in its entirety here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YtaYX7Rstc

      And for the record – I am a Jewish Israeli, who is 100% opposed to Zionism because I reject its innate racist and ethno-supremacist nature.

      Reply to Comment
      • Simon

        OK, Mr Israeli, how about sticking to the topic, rather than virtue signal – I wouldn’t set much store in the mutterings of the conspiracy theorist Abby Martin.

        Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        From your video link

        Israeli man: “They must leave our country”.
        Abby Martin: How?
        Israeli man: “We take them with chains and put them on boats”. Wow. Like this? http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-bEQ9Ca7ZRFI/T8zyGOE616I/AAAAAAAAIa4/QIq7FTv6c1g/s640/African+slave+ship+diagram.jpg

        This was the same man who claimed he wasn’t racist, but lamented and lamented, saying ‘we have enough problems with the Arabs’. It’s amazing how the hateful incitement of netanyahooo, regev, et al, has been accepted by the majority of israelis as fact.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      It’s not anything that the article said, but it’s an interesting question that is raised in the comments, are the residents of Umm al-Kheir human? Do the settlers of Carmel consider them human? Or are the settlers of Carmel the only humans here? What does the Talmud say about who is human and who is not? Do the settlers of Carmel live by the Talmud? In very well-referenced portions of the Talmud it says non-Jews are not human. That was repeated by The Jewish State’s chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. And repeated by “the rabbi of the settlers” Yitzhak Shapira. So do we gather that the settlers of Carmel believe the residents of Umm al-Kheir are not human? Do we gather that all settlers would believe that? Do we gather that settler’s beliefs represent Israel’s beliefs, since Israel’s Prime Ministers and Knesset members support settlers? Then do I and other non-Jews want to support Israel?

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Do the residents of Umm el-Kheir adhere to what their Muslim preachers tell them, that the Jews are decedents of pigs and apes, i.e. not human? Or how do they relate to the authoritative Hadith that eventually the trees and stones are going to “out the Jews” to their mortal Muslim enemies?

        Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          You bring a valid point Ike. Both sides nourish cultures of hate. Both practice and promote terrorism for their goals. Both manipulate other stronger countries for their benefit. What is the answer, make it a fair fight, arm both sides equally and let them sort it out?

          Reply to Comment