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From the field

Some 1000 South Hebron Hills residents to be expelled. Testimony of Mahmoud Abu ‘Aram, Khirbet al-Majaz

Mahmoud Musa Shhadeh Abu ‘Aram, Khirbet al-Majaz

Mahmoud Musa Shhadeh Abu ‘Aram. Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'TselemI live in Khirbet al-Majaz in Greater Yatta. I’m a farmer and a shepherd. Together with my eight brothers, we have 90 dunams [9 hectares] of cultivated land located around Khirbet al-Majaz. Twenty families live in the village on a permanent basis, and we inherited the land from our grandfathers. About 150 people live here, mostly women and children.

Like everyone else here, I live in open shelters and in tents that don’t protect us from the summer’s heat or the winter’s cold. We are forbidden to build houses of stone or cement because the Israeli military won’t grant building permits, claiming it is illegal for us to live in the area. If someone does build with stone and cement, bulldozers come and destroy the structure immediately. Fear of demolition is a trauma dreaded by everyone living here and in the nearby villages. So we don’t take any chances and don’t build proper houses. We know that, ultimately, it would be futile, just wasted money and effort.

The Planning Department is always on the lookout here and is aware of every construction attempt, even the most minor. The department won’t let us dig new cisterns to collect rainwater, and if we do, it doesn’t hesitate to demolish them. It makes us feel as if our very existence is illegal, temporary and insecure. This is how we’ve had to live for decades on end, and there’s been no change. Our aim is to be able to go on living in our shelters and tents with our sheep, living near our land that is our only source of livelihood.

Mahmoud Musa Shhadeh Abu ‘Aram in Khirbet al-Majaz . Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 6 Feb. 2013.
Mahmoud Musa Shhadeh Abu ‘Aram in Khirbet al-Majaz . Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah, B'Tselem, 6 Feb. 2013.

Our lives are exceptionally hard. Other people wouldn’t be willing to live the way we do. We have many problems that can’t be solved. One of the worst problems is the shortage of water. We collect water in old cisterns, and use it for drinking, cooking and watering the sheep, even though we know it isn’t clean. Even in terms of quantity, there is barely enough water for us and our sheep. In summer, we suffer a crisis and water shortage, so we are forced to buy water from distant places like the village of Hameydah or from the cities of Yatta or Hebron, and that costs us a lot of money.

Water shortage is also a result of the nearly arid climate. There is very little rainfall here, and grain can’t grow properly. In addition, there’s no water infrastructure near any village in the area. This keeps us from optimal utilization of the farmland and from cultivating trees and vegetables. If we had more water, it could change our whole way of life here, leading to stability and increasing the number of residents.

Another problem is having less pastureland. We used to have very extensive pastures, but now they are blocked off to the sheep, because some of the lands are located across the Green Line.

Shortage of water and pastureland along with the rising cost of caring for farm animals are a threat to our continued existence here and to our only source of livelihood. Many farmers like me have had to cut down the size of their herds because they can’t cover the related expenses.

All our lives we have suffered from having no electricity. For many years, we used kerosene lamps until an Israeli organization provided us with solar panels that supply enough electricity for lighting but not for powering electrical appliances or for heating.

In addition, we are located far away from the city of Yatta. We have no paved road or satisfactory walking trail. The Israeli military forbids us to pave a road that could make our lives easier and validate our existence. We must travel along a difficult track, which the Israeli military sometimes blocks with rocks and dirt, and then we have to find an alternate route.

The journey to Yatta takes a long time. Sometimes people have to walk a few kilometers or ride a donkey. The route is also passible in four-wheel drive vehicles or by tractor. Small cars can’t pass this rough route. I don’t remember an ambulance ever coming here. If someone is ill and requires medical care, he must be taken, even at night, on a tractor or a donkey to the nearest place that has a vehicle that can take him to the hospital. There is no permanent medical clinic in our village or any other nearby village, so sick people must go to Yatta for medical care.

The Israeli military considers this area a closed military zone. It pursues people who travel on the faulty roads here, claiming that their vehicles sometimes drive workers into Israel. I remember a few occasions that the Israeli military attacked people right near here, beat them and damaged their vehicles.

We have no school in the village. There are more than 20 elementary school children here and they have to walk several kilometers both morning and evening so they can study at the nearest school at Khirbet al-Fakhit. The older boys and girls must move to Yatta to attend high school, and they come back to the village only during vacations.

This way of life is exhausting and intolerable. It influences our stability and our decisions. Many village families take their daughters out of school when they finish elementary school. The percentage of drop-outs is very high compared with other areas.

Everything is hard, temporary, insecure and illegal. We have grown accustomed to this, as our fathers and grandfathers did. Several months ago the Israeli government announced its plan to expel all of the local residents because the area is a military training zone. Ever since I heard this news I’ve been worried that this plan will be implemented.

I can’t imagine myself and my family living anywhere outside Khirbet al-Majaz. For me, that would be like death. After decades of living here, where would I go? Where would my family go? Where can our relatives go? What would happen to the sheep? To the land? I don’t even want to think about that day. I only want to be able to go on living my harsh life here. I hope that, ultimately, the Israeli government won’t want to implement its plan, because of public disapproval.

Mahmoud Musa Shhadeh Abu ‘Aram, 41, married father of 4, is a resident of Khirbet al-Majaz, in the South Hebron Hills. His testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash in the witness’s home, 24 September 2012.