Palestinians forced to rely on food aid
Ruth Pollard, The Age, June 24, 2013
Power lines supplying electricity to the Israeli settlement of Carmel pass right over the tiny Bedouin village of Umm al-Khair, where residents struggle without the basics, forced to live off the grid while their neighbours flourish.
Many structures in the village are under threat of demolition from Israeli authorities, which means it cannot expand to accommodate its growing population, the villagers say. Housing is mostly tents and a few concrete structures, and residents use a donkey to carry water from a small pipe nearby that they share with a handful of other villages that are home to about 5000 people.
School is held in a tent, a small library is housed in a disused bus and it is a daily challenge for the 23 families of Umm al-Khair to put food on the table.
These villagers make up some of the 1.6 million people classed as “food insecure” throughout the West Bank and Gaza, representing 34 per cent of households in Palestine, according to new research by the UN World Food Program.
Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Program, says the rise in households going hungry, up 7 per cent from a year ago, is driven by Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis, and the high unemployment rates.
Ms Cousin described another Bedouin village, Khan al-Ahmar, surrounded by a fence from the nearby settlement and a highway that its residents do not always have permission to use, to highlight the food insecurity issue.
"That keeps what is historically a nomadic population trapped in one area and makes them ever more dependent on food assistance … because [they cannot practise] their normal lifestyle and livelihood because of the occupation," Ms Cousin said.
The World Food Program chief’s comments on the extent of food insecurity in the West Bank and Gaza underscore the task ahead for US Secretary of State John Kerry, who last month announced a plan to generate $US4 billion investment in the Palestinian private sector as part of his attempts to kick-start the moribund peace.
Khadra Dahoud Mohamed al-Hathelen, a 56-year-old mother of nine, from Umm al-Khair village, says it is impossible to grow anything with so little water. “We cannot get to our lands with our livestock because we cannot pass the settlement,” she says, “and we are harassed daily by the settlers.
"We have sheep but it is no longer profitable because our grazing land is so limited and food prices for fodder have risen."
The family receives a regular distribution of food from the World Food Program—wheat flour, chickpeas or lentils, oil, sugar and salt. “We eat everything we get,” says Mrs al-Hathelen.
The community is regularly in Israel’s Supreme Court, challenging the demolition orders and fighting to stay on their land, which creates a further financial burden.
The Israel government does not accept its settlement construction is in breach of international law.