Photographed: Residents of Umm Al Khir on the day they found out that  the village's oven was destroyed. Photo: Taayush

Photographed: Residents of Umm Al Khir on the day they found out that the village’s oven was destroyed. Photo: Taayush

The IDF escorts a group of Jewish vandals to destroy an oven that emits a bad odor. It has forgotten what it means to enforce the law

There is a small village named Umm Al Khir in the Hebron district, which suffers from the presence of a settlement named Carmel. The latter was built 30 years ago and it is adjacent to the outer houses of the village. There is a taboun – a traditional oven – in Umm Al Khir,  a construct of mud and straw, built over a hole full of goat dung, which is used for fuel. The oven is used by the villagers to bake bread in a method they claim is  “as ancient as the patriarch Abraham.” In order for the taboun to properly function, it always has to burn.

Unfortunately, the settlers complain about the bad odor coming from the taboun. When the wind blows the right way, it reminds them that after all the talk about “the country of our forefathers,” they still live in the Middle East, among Palestinians. So they make a point of disturbing the oven and harassing its users.

Had all this taken place in Israel, this would have been a dispute between neighbors. Various courts would deal with reciprocal lawsuits, the incident would find a place in some families’ mythology, and at some point the courts would resolve the issue.

But it isn’t happening in Israel; it’s happening in the Occupied Territories it has not quite annexed, in the territories where there is no rule of law but plenty of the rule of might. Therefore, at the end of November, Israeli citizens (whom the villagers claim were seen leaving Carmel) reached the village, accompanied by IDF troops, in order to put out the taboun fire.

Read that sentence again. The IDF troops, whose fame in the last few decades was built on escorting settler children to extra-curricular activities, now defend Israeli civilians from… bad odors. The security apparatus is now receiving an all-time record budget. Admittedly, most of it goes toward salaries and pensions, but the main scene of the IDF in at least the last 25 years has been  the West Bank.

We used to have an army. You know, an organization that knows how to fight other armies. The last time the IDF actually faced a foreign army was in 1982, in Lebanon. The results were mixed at best. The IDF couldn’t push the Syrian army off the Beirut-Damascus Highway. When the IDF invaded Lebanon again, in 2006, the results were even worse. In 1982, the IDF’s armored columns were ensnarled in a huge traffic jam, but finally managed to break free and conquered several Lebanese cities. The model 2006 IDF couldn’t open a five kilometer supply line, and its starving soldiers had to loot grocery stores in order to feed themselves.

What happened in those 24 years? Plenty of incidents in which soldiers had to serve as an armed kindergarten teacher for settlers – from escorting “that’ll show them” strolls through Palestinian villages, to lying on graves nobody knew existed two days ago, and now, finally, acting as an armed escort for goons who want to extinguish an oven which was there before they even arrived. But, infuriating as this may be to Israeli patriots, this is not the issue.

The IDF soldiers – though unfortunately they are still unaware of this fact  – are supposed to enforce the law in the West Bank and to protect its residents. The military commander fills the shoes of the sovereign. They are not supposed to be a support team for gangs. Even had there been a legal order demanding the destruction of the taboun, the soldiers would still have had to assist the authorities – not a mob! – in enforcing the order.

But here, the soldiers escorted a mob of law-breakers – and, as it happens, on an almost daily basis in the West Bank, this looked perfectly normal to them. They do so in Burin, they do so near Yitzhar, escorting bands of vandals who return home tired yet satisfied. No soldier has even been tried for escorting Jewish raiders on a raid on a Palestinian village; no officer has ever had his career cut short for it. And as long as that doesn’t happen, the basic misunderstanding of the IDF regarding its duties will continue – and, accordingly, it will continue to be a partner in crime.

Back to the Umm Al Khir taboun: the Israeli citizens came with buckets of water to extinguish the fire, the villagers rushed to the scene, one soldier put his foot inside the taboun, bedlam ensued, and the soldiers retreated, along with the civilians. But the story doesn’t end there. Our stories, as a rule, do not end well.

In the beginning of December, the villagers found out that during the night, someone entered the village and poured a bucket of water into the taboun, putting it out of order. According to the villagers, a police scout found footprints leading back to a house in the settlement of Carmel. We represent the villagers in a complaint with the police and are now holding our breath to see just how it will whitewash the investigation. We’ll keep you posted.