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From the field

Some 1000 South Hebron Hills residents to be expelled. Testimony of Fatmeh Abu Sabha, Khirbet al-Fakhit

Fatmeh Abu Sabha, Khirbet al-Fakhit

Fatmeh Abu Sabha, 71. Photo: Oren Ziv, activestistills.orgI have been living in Khirbet al-Fakhit since it was under Jordanian rule. I was born and raised in the village of Susiya. Then I got married and came to live in a cave with my husband, Ali Abu Sabha. He died twenty years ago. I still remember the days when Jordanian mounted troops would visit us, and I’d serve them chicken dishes I prepared with fowl I raised in the village.

My husband and I have 9 sons and daughters, all born in the village. The children grew up, got married, and some of them left the village. My son Yasser, now 35 years old, stayed on here with me, with his wife and family. He has five daughters and two sons. Two of my daughters also live here with me. One of them graduated from university four years ago and is looking for work.

We live in the village and subsist only on farming and raising sheep. We have over 150 dunams [15 hectares] of land and about 50 heads of sheep. My son Yasser raises 150 head. Our crops and grazing depend on the rain, and more fertile seasons make our lives easier. We collect the rainwater in cisterns.

We have had very little rain over the past few years. There wasn’t enough pasture or water. In the summer, when the water in our cisterns was gone, we had no choice but to buy water. In the past we used donkeys and camels to get from one place to another along the rough mountainous paths, but five years ago we bought a tractor and it makes things a bit easier for us.

The military says that we are in a closed area and it has closed off the roads with dirt, but we opened them.

The military won’t let us build homes made of stone or concrete. We live in open shelters that don’t protect us from the winter cold or winds. Last week’s winds tore the tops off the shelters: our bedding and the rest of our belongings got completely soaked. I have a cave, but I use it as a shelter for my and my son’s sheep, because they can’t survive in the open shelters. Our hard lives here haven’t improved much over the years. However, we do now have electricity that is produced by solar panels, and that has changed our lives a little: I’ve been able to watch television for a year now. I also use an electric butter churn instead of the manual one I used to use. We also have a refrigerator.

Fatmeh Abu Sabha in a cave used as a sheep-pen. Photo: Oren Ziv,, 30 Jan. 2013.
Fatmeh Abu Sabha in a cave used as a sheep-pen. Photo: Oren Ziv,, 30 Jan. 2013.

Despite this hard life, the Israeli military and the [Civil] Administration won’t leave us alone. Twelve years ago, military bulldozers came upon us by surprise and demolished everything in the village. They destroyed our cave, which had room for 500 sheep, as well as shelters and four water cisterns. They also confiscated our personal property and drove us out of the area. But three of my children and I didn’t leave. For 17 days we hid near the village, and at night we came back to it. We were careful not to move or make any noise so that we wouldn’t be noticed by the planning staff or the military sentries who were pursuing us. My daughter-in-law gave birth during that period. I asked her not to let the baby cry loudly, so that the soldiers wouldn’t hear and discover us.

We lived in fear and worry until I heard on the radio that the court had decided to let us return to the village. I went to my neighbors who had been hiding nearby and told them. We returned to the village and rebuilt the shelters, fixed up the cave and removed the rocks and dirt from the cisterns.

Khirbet al-Fakhit. Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills, 29 Jan. 2013.
Khirbet al-Fakhit. Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills, 29 Jan. 2013.

Over the last few months, we have heard that the Israeli military is planning to evict us and other villages as well, saying that this area is being used for military training. I don’t know how true this is. For me, it’s a question of life and death. I would prefer that the soldiers shoot me rather than expel me from the village. I have nowhere to go, and I won’t live with my married children’s families in the city of Yatta. I’d prefer to die like my husband, who died here. I’ve spent my whole life here. All my memories are here, all my pain and suffering were here. I will fight to remain here.

Fatmeh Khalil Muhammad Abu Sabha, 41, a widow and a mother of 9, is a resident of Khirbet al-Fakhit, in the South Hebron Hills. Her testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash in the witness’s home, 14 January 2013