Umm Fagarah: Life in the Line of Fire
Photo Blog by Eloise Bollack
In the peaceful landscape of the South Hebron Hills, the occupation of the land is a daily struggle. Whilst life seems to be quiet and smooth; the Palestinian communities often have to forget their basic daily life problems to focus on a main issue: resisting expulsion from their land.
As 60% of the West Bank, the South Hebron Hills lies in the Area C, meaning it is under complete Israeli administrative and political control. Palestinians residing in area C live under harsh conditions in terms of land confiscations, house demolitions, and access to water and electricity. Furthermore, a 7.5 acre area within the district of Masafer Yatta, including twelve Palestinian villages or hamlets, was designated by the Israeli Army as “Firing Zone 918” or closed military area in the late 70s. In 1999, evacuation orders were issued to remove the inhabitants of the villages, claiming that they are nonpermanent residents and ignoring their ancient culture.
In Umm Fagarah fifteen families are living in caves, tents and few stone houses; farming and grazing, as their ancestors have been doing for ages. Secluded on a hillside, Um Fagarah is accessible only by a rough dirt road. It stands quiet, facing the Naqab desert.
Its 160 residents, as in the twelve other hamlets of the firing zone, maintain a unique way of life, with many living in or beside dug caves. Studies have shown that cave dwellers have been living in the southern Hebron hills since at least the 1830s.
Mahmoud Hussein Hamamdi explains, “We have always been on this land; we are living the same way my grandfather used to. It is a very simple life; we live with the seasons, taking care of the flocks, harvesting the fields. We collect the water from two natural cisterns and a power generator provides electricity.”
“Unfortunately, nowadays, we are facing issues my grandfather would have never expected!” says Hamamdi. “We started building a few stones houses in the 80s; but then, with the expansion of the four nearby settlements, the Israeli Civil Administration wouldn’t deliver building permits anymore. Even though in 2007, I decided to build a 60 square meters brick house on the top of my cave because it is too small for my wife and my 14 children. But on 24 November 2011, Israeli bulldozers came and destroyed my house as well as the mosque and the container for the collective power generator”.