Homsa: The occupation once again destroys houses, looting property and dehumanizing helpless people
Humsa is a small shepherd community numbering about 9 families and the total of 100 persons, located in a beautiful valley between the settler colonies of Ro’i and Beqa’ot. The villagers make their livelihood from grazing their flocks, preparing their cheeses and selling meat. They came to their site 40 years ago, looking for new grazing grounds as they were removed their former ones. The site was declared – expectedly – as a firing zone by the State, not because of a lack of such zones but mainly in order to deprive them of their permanent hold on the lands that belong to Palestinians residing in the West Bank. The community has been demolished several times from November 2020 until now, July 2021, and every time it has been re-built with the help of humanitarian organizations and Israeli peace organizations’ donations. See here a survey held by OCHA.
In the morning, upon our arrival we found 6 men sitting on the ground in the middle of the empty desert, angry or defeated – not clear which. These usually warm and hospitable people looked at us with empty eyes, and did not respond to our ‘hellos’.
Behind them was the horrible void that until yesterday had been a large sheep pen. Our words expressing our sorrow and questions what they needed and how we could help remained unanswered.
We turned to the women. Aisha, the elderly disabled woman, sat beneath a ragged piece of plastic sheeting tied to a stick of less than a meter high. F. and A. were busy around her, collecting water bottles and a broken teapot – all that remained after yesterday’s destruction.
They were getting organized to move on to a tent standing outside the firing zone. With our car we picked up some plastic sheets and Aisha, bent over with a serious back condition. At a distance of about 400 meters, outside the firing zone, they converged in a single tent – 4 families (presently without the husbands who were out grazing) and about 20 sheep. As they arrived, Aisha gathered some twigs as a sort of small natural broom and cleaned the place from… what, actually? After all the sandy ground present both in- and outside and no matter how much sand you sweep – there is still more of it. Apparently, this is habit.
On our way to the next family gathering, soldiers stopped us and forbade us to continue. We said we were bringing water and food to people who remained without them in the sun, and showed them the water. After checking our IDs and arguing, they let us, but stipulated we must bring the stuff and get out immediately. “Not stop or talk or take pictures”. On our way to the families, we saw women carrying little carpets and bowls and other kitchen utensils. Apparently during the demolition, they hid away some utensils and blankets in the wadi under a pile of rubbish, and now they took them out. Everything smelled of rubbish but we loaded the things and brought them whatever they saved from the destruction. Meanwhile they told us that during the demolition everyone hid things and ran off to the hills around the wadi. 3 women from 3 families were there. Laila and her daughter were preparing cheeses. The cheese they already had were all taken yesterday by the soldiers. Thus, under the seething sun, in 38 degrees centigrade, they sat and squeezed napkins holding yoghurt to do what they were used to doing every day of their lives – making cheese. It’s all so crazy – in this horrible void and burning summer they were leading their routine lives, but with their gaze constantly turned back in fear, every moment making evident that nothing here was routine but on they must strive no matter what. How many times Laila grabbed her dress as if wanting to distance it from her body, saying – this is the only piece of clothing I have left and it’s already stinking and filthy. I have not a single dress to change in this heat. Nor do the babies and children. Everything was taken by the soldiers.
In the meantime, more activists – from the Palestinian Jordan Valley and from the Jerusalem protests – arrived, and I realized that our visit, so embarrassing for us because we couldn’t really help, helpless in face of the evil that just wishes to destroy, was actually amusing the women and bringing some light into their eyes. Finally, police arrive and some senior officer said that whoever does not leave the site immediately will have their car confiscated. I recalled that I had not yet given them the water I intended (cold water in bottle I had frozen at home). I said to this officer that “I will only bring them the water” and he said, “If you do, your car will be confiscated”. I ignored him, went to the car and got the bottles. He did not confiscate it…
One family told us that the soldiers brought a bus along, and when people saw the bus, they were all scared that they would be forced to board it and drive away so they grabbed the children and ran off to hide in the hills.
The father took us to where the soldiers had thrown everything that belonged to the Humsa inhabitants. 12 kilometers away from Humsa, on a barely passable track through the En Shibli ravine, we arrived at the head of a hill where Israel had stuck a giant cellular antenna, at a narrow, rocky site very close to the illegal outpost of Moshe, who frightens the entire area and because of whom the police is summoned nearly every day. At the head of this hill, around the antenna, lay a pile of blankets, mattresses, children’s bikes, toys, schoolbags, and dozens of bags filled with clothes, as well as plates, silverware, pots – everything that had made up the lives of 9 Humsa families, thrown out like useless trash. No signs anywhere, nothing to keep thieves from coming and making use of the measly belongings of the poorest of the poor.
When I got there, I looked at the piles of personal effects taken from the people, and was shocked – in my mind’s eye I had other images that haunt me at night, of the clothes and personal effects at the annihilation camps… Are we on our way there?
Clothes piles and the men – photographed by Oren Ziv
The pot with the shoe inside – photographed by Daphne
All the other pictures – taken by Nurit Popper