Right next door to the illegal Israeli settlement of Karmel, its neat yellow houses in perfect lines, its large industrial chicken farm looming on a nearby hill, is the Bedouin village of Um al Kher. The village consists of 21 families, a total of 127 people. People living here says that before 1948 they lived in Arad, but became refugees in that year during the Israeli war of independence (the Nakba, or Catastrophe, of the Palestinian people). They purchased the land of Um al Kher and have lived on it since then. They are shepherds living a very simple life on the land. Their water comes from a pipeline that runs through the illegal settlement, which began its existence in the 1980s.
One family reports that last week, just before President Abbas went to the UN, the settlement cut off their water supply and electricity. Family members reported that they were told this was a threat to show what would happen to the Palestinians if Abbas went to the UN for statehood. The family has some solar panels and some water stored in the cistern. But the water they have will not be enough for the families there and the many goats as well. Nevertheless, they always make tea for visitors, sweet tea with mint. It is the custom.
We were fortunate to speak to Iman, an articulate woman of 18 who will attend university soon. One of my team members offered her a drink of water from her water bottle, but she refused, saying, “I must be ready for no water, then if there isn’t water I won’t mind, like in Ramadan.” (Moslems keep a strict fast during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan, not drinking or eating anything from sunrise to sunset.) I found it heartbreaking to hear her comment, as if the religious observance of Ramadan could be compared to the lack of water due to someone else’s stealing it. To think that the factory farm on the hillside contained chickens who got more water than these people was very disturbing to me.
When we asked Iman how she feels about the actions of the settlers, she said she felt angry. She went on to describe how, on the Sabbath, the settlers come onto the village land and stand on it to pray and to stare at the residents of the village. In addition, on many occasions, they have blocked the road so she and other young people cannot go to school.
“The land means everything to me,” she said. “My grandfather and uncle are buried here….Why, why must they stop and check my car, why can’t I go on my own hill…. Why don’t I have rights, like them?”