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Harsh living conditions and settler abuse in a-Sfai a-Tahta, the Southern Hebron Hills, October 2004

Fahima 'Awwad, Farmer

Muhammad Nasser

I was born in Khirbet al- Makbarat , near Tel ' Arad . I lived and grew up in Khirbet al-Markaz . Since I married, I've lived with my husband, Shahadeh 'Awad, who is 77 years old, in Khirbet a-Sfay . Ever since I was a child I've worked with the land and raised flocks. My husband and I have a plot of land about 20 dunams in size in Khirbet a-Sfay, and more land reaching about 114 dunams to the west of Khirbet Mughayyir ' al-Abeed . We can't reach that land because of harassment from settlers in the Ma'on settlement. They harass us, and the army and the Civil Administration back them up. We used to have another seventy-five dunams of land, but they were confiscated in the 1970s. The Carmel settlement was built on it. We have about a hundred sheep and goats, which my husband and one of my sons look after.

In the winter of 1997-1998, we got orders from the Israeli army saying that we had to leave the area. About a week later, soldiers came and demolished the structures we were living in. We left Khirbet a-Sfay and went to live in the a-Safa area, which is west of the khirbeh. A year later, the court permitted us to return to the khirbeh. My husband and I, along with the rest of the residents, came back. In 1999, after the settler Dov Dribben was killed, the settlers blocked the road that connects the khirbeh to Yatta . This road passes through Khirbet Tuba and a-Tuwan i. The settlers blocked it with a pile of dirt, and attacked anyone that tried to use it . Sometimes, soldiers also prevented us from using that road. In one incident, soldiers stopped some shepherds who were going the the short way and wouldn't let them continue. The shepherds returned to the khirbeh. Using the short road, it was possible to reach Yatta in half an hour on a donkey and even faster in a tractor. Now we go to Yatta on a longer, winding path and it takes us about two hours to get there in a tractor and more than three hours on foot or riding a donkey.

The pressure and abuse didn't stop there. Three years ago, in June, my twenty-three-year-old son 'Ayed drove a tractor to Yatta in order to get food. He was expected back in the khirbeh by evening. When he didn't arrive, I started to worry. The next day, my son Fayez , who is thirty-three years old, came over and said they found the tractor next to the Carmel settlement, but 'Ayed wasn't there. 'Ayed called us the same day. He said that he was being held in the police station in Kiryat Arba and would have to pay 4,000 shekels bail to be released until trial. We drove there, and after arguing with the police, we paid 1,600 shekels. When we got back to the tractor, I saw that some of the goods had disappeared, and others had spoiled.

Since the murder of Dov Dribben, we can't get to the land that's next to Khirbet Mughayyir al-'Abid because it's located alongside the Ma'on settlement. We can only work on the edges of the field. If we try to get any closer, the settlers fire at us. This happened to me several times when I was grazing the flock, and it happened to Nuzha Jibril a-Najar , who is fifty years old. The settlers shot at her while she was grazing her flock in the area, and one of the bullets hit her in the stomach.

Life here isn't easy. We live in caves and we aren't allowed to build in the khirbeh. About two years ago, a foreign organization built a water cistern and shower stalls for us . They also gave us a water tank. On Wednesday, 13 October 2004, a white jeep from the Civil Administration came. Officials gave us demolition-warning orders. I don't know what they say or what exactly is going to be demolished. We live under threats and pressure from the Civil Administration and from the settlers. The main road is still blocked, we suffer from water shortages, we can't reach parts of our land, we are forbidden from building houses or apartments, and we don't have access to basic services like health and education. These problems make our lives very hard, but we have no choice. We must remain here with our flocks and what remains of our land. It is the only way we can make a basic living.

Fahima Hweimel 'Ali 'Awwad, 57, is a mother of ten, a farmer and a resident of a-Sfai a-Tahta village in South Mount Hebron. Her testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash, at her home in a-Sfai, on 24 October 2004