By Moriah Ella Mason
On August 29th I got home late only to be greeted with Facebook images of bulldozers, destroyed homes and, peeking out from among the rubble, spots of bright blue and the childlike drawing of a bird in flight.
These scattered spots were what remained of a mural designed and painted by myself and children from the Palestinian village Umm al-Kheir. The mural was painted on Umm al-Kheir’s single cement building – the Community Center which housed the village’s kindergarten and shared computers. The Center and everything inside had been demolished that morning by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). How does such destruction help defend the state of Israel? I cannot answer this question. But I can offer some context.
This July I traveled to the South Hebron Hills as part of a delegation with the Center for Jewish Non-Violence. We were a group of 40 Jews from all over the world committed to ending the Israeli Occupation of Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank by working in solidarity with Palestinian communities. One of these communities is Umm al-Kheir.
Umm al-Kheir lies in a rural part of the West Bank. Under the Occupation, the IDF classifies the West Bank into three “areas”. The rural areas are classified as “Area C”; they are entirely under Israeli control (both Israeli military and political control). Area C includes roughly 60% of the West Bank and nearly all of the area’s natural resources – water, farmable land, and mineral resources. Palestinian villages in Area C do not have services like sewage, running water, or electricity. Because they are under Israeli authority it is illegal for the Palestinian Authority to provide these services even if they were financially capable of doing so.
In Umm al-Kheir people spend much of their income purchasing tanks of water which they use sparingly. Electricity comes from a few solar panels and several portable toilets serve the whole village. The people live in ramshackle homes – resembling something in between tents and shacks. This is because the IDF requires a building permit for any Palestinian wanting to build a structure over a foot or two high. Applications for building permits are routinely rejected. Of course people need somewhere to live. So they build homes. At some point the IDF comes with their bulldozers and demolish them. The villagers picks through the rubble, salvage what they can and rebuild.
During my time in Umm al-Kheir I got to see the creative resilience of the community through the dreams of the village children. Together we designed a mural of their future homeland. They drew rolling fields, “real” buildings, a mosque, orchards of fruit trees, camels and goats, a car, and electric lines powering the village. We painted the design together. Bulldozers cannot destroy such visions once they have been seen and shared.
Why does the IDF focus so much energy on destroying simple homes and a Community Center? Let me fill in the picture a little more.
If you were to step outside of the Community Center door and look towards the dirt road that runs through Umm al-Kheir you would see several houses and a chicken coop. Just beyond that would be several small fields and running through the fields would be a chain link fence with barbed wire on top. On the other side of the fence lies Carmel, a Jewish settlement, illegal under international law. The roads in Carmel are paved. There is running water and electric lines running to each house. Towards the edge of Carmel, some trailers have been put up. This typically marks the first step in a settlement’s expansion. The trailers can be moved to the Palestinian side of the fence overnight and, in short order, military protection arrives to protect settlers from the Palestinians on whose land they are now squatting.
In practice the way Area C has been classified and governed supports the notion that Israel intends to annex as much of the West Bank as possible – essentially destroying any chance for a viable two-state solution. Area C is the majority of West Bank territory, but being the rural areas, it is also the region with the fewest Palestinians. Even so, the IDF uses home demolitions and the lack of municipal services to further incentivize the Palestinians living in these areas to leave. Meanwhile the Jewish settlements expand with full support of the military.
Any person who believes in human rights and the inherent dignity and equality of human beings can agree that these policies and the Occupation they support must be ended. We are complicit in these actions, as is made clear by the recently approved U.S. aid package of $38 billion to the Israeli military. We need to demand an end to the support for Israeli Occupation and the destruction of Palestinian homes and dreams.
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Moriah Ella Mason is a local organizer with Jewish Voices for Peace.