There are two communities that live side by side in the South Hebron Hills. One is Carmel, a gated Israeli settlement of 400 residents, with lush gardens and air conditioned homes.
The other – just beyond Carmel’s barbed wire fencing – is the Bedouin hamlet of Umm al Khair, a collection of about 70 people living in tin huts and tents with no access to electricity or running water.
The Bedouins in Umm al Khair came here nearly 70 years ago when Israel expelled them from the Naqab desert. They bought the land bit by bit over a ten- year period from people who lived in the nearby town of Yatta. In total it cost them what amounted to 100 camels.
They attracted little attention from the Israeli authorities until 1980 when the decision was made to build Carmel and the settlers began to look looked greedily on the Bedouin land.
The means of grabbing it was through the issue of phoney military zone orders by the Israeli army so the Bedouin structures – from their homes to their bread oven and more recently the small toilets they had built – became illegal.
Some structures have been demolished two or three times and then rebuilt. Soldiers attack the goats, sheep and the shepherds that tend them. The Bedouins have papers to prove ownership but are forbidden permits to enable them to build new houses or maintain the old ones. The Bedouins refuse to leave.
Meliha, a 56 year old woman with 17 grandchildren, says the Palestine Authority have been of no help. “They came once, took a picture and then left,” she said. “We have to be steadfast. The Palestine Authority build mansions in Ramallah but we stay here to fight to keep our land.”