On the morning of 27 October 2014, the Israeli military came with bulldozers to the Palestinian village of Um Al-Kheir and demolished six houses and a traditional bread oven (tabun). The demolitions left thirty-one people homeless, including twelve children. According to the villagers, the tabun had no demolition order, but the settlers from nearby Karmel settlement were trying to sue the community over its use, saying that the smoke from the fire that baked the bread generated health problems for the settlers.
During the demolition, Israeli police took two Israeli peace activists to the Kiryat Arba police station and arrested an international volunteer. They released him later that night on the condition that he could not be in the West Bank for a period of two weeks.
Um Al-Kheir is a small Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, made of Bedouin refugees from Tel Arad in Negev, inside the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel. The residents bought the land for the village in the 1950s. In the 1980s, settlers established Karmel right next to the village and continue to confiscate land from Palestinians for its expansion. The Israeli occupation authorities deny access to even the most basic infrastructure for the residents of Um Al-Kheir, may not connect to running water or electricity, and must rely on solar panels and generators.
As it happens all over Area C (61% of the West Bank under full Israeli military control), any construction without approval from the Israeli military authorities, the Civil Administration, gets a demolition order. The Civil Administration approves only a small fraction, about 5%, of the requests for building permits and only in heavily built areas that represent only 1% of Area C. It effectively forbids Palestinians to build in two-thirds of this same area (40% of the whole West Bank). Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, Israel has demolished thousands of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories because they could not get building permits, including the six houses demolished on 27 October.
The administrative process of house demolition, along with land confiscation, has been publicly recognized as a way to safeguard space for settlements, which are illegal under international law. According to this same set of rules, and according to international law, an occupying force should also allow the development and well being of the occupied population, which the policy of house demolitions clearly violates.
On the day following the demolitions, 28 October, Palestinian residents of Um al-Kheir gathered with members of the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee and international solidarity volunteers for a joint action, during which they rebuilt the tabun. This traditional oven is the only sustainable source of daily bread for forty people in the village. CPTers were actively involved in helping to rebuild this illegally demolished structure.
The tabun was demolished once again on 29 October and rebuilt only with metal parts soon after.