Today, Humsa does not look like much, strewn with the debris of successive demolitions — a broken pink toy, an upturned stove, a smashed solar panel. Even before it was first demolished, it was a community of just 85 people living in a few dozen tents, spread across a remote hillside.

The residents say the Israeli arguments miss a wider injustice.

“We’re the original inhabitants of this land,” said Ansar Abu Akbash, a 29-year-old herder in Humsa. “They didn’t have this land originally — they’re settlers.”

Israel captured the land in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The first herders moved to Humsa in the 1980s because they say they had already been displaced by Israeli activity elsewhere in the West Bank.

The slopes where the herders live and graze their 10,000 sheep are still owned by Palestinians living in a nearby town, to whom they pay rent.

For the herders, the solution is not as simple as moving to the location suggested by the army: They say there is not enough land there for their sheep to roam.

“This is the only place where we can continue our way of life,” Ms. Abu Awad said. “We live through these sheep, and they live through us.”

The Israeli authorities rejected the herders’ applications to retroactively approve their modest encampment, said Tawfiq Jabareen, a lawyer representing the villagers.

That is a familiar dynamic in Area C. Between 2016 and 2018, Israel approved 56 of 1,485 permit applications for Palestinian construction in Area C, according to data obtained by Bimkom, an independent Israeli organization that advocates Palestinian planning rights.

And while the Israeli authorities have targeted Humsa, they have turned a blind eye to unauthorized Israeli construction in the same military zone as the herding community, Mr. Jabareen said.

The army has left untouched several Israeli structures built inside the military zone in 2018 and 2019, even though those structures were also under demolition orders, he said.

“These parallel tracks for dealing with Palestinian and settler communities are a stark illustration of discrimination,” he said.

The government agency that oversees demolitions declined to comment on this issue.

The nearby Israeli settlement of Roi, a village of 200 people built in the 1970s, was designed to fit within a narrow gap between two Israeli military training zones, in compliance with Israeli law.

The residents of Roi appear to have little sympathy for their neighbors. Some said it was the Palestinians who were the interlopers on the land and the Israelis who redeemed it from a barren wasteland.

“Look at what we did here in 40 years and you will understand,” said Uri Schlomi von Strauss, 70, one of Roi’s earliest settlers. “We built the land, we plowed the land, and this gives us the right to the land,” he added. “Why should I have sympathy?”

Across the valley, the herders of Humsa were counting the cost of the most recent demolition. The army had confiscated their water tanks, which the military considers unsanctioned structures. That reduced the water they had to drink and wash with, let alone to give their sheep or prepare the cheese.

One woman had lost all her embroidery, another her prized coat.

Aid groups had given them new tents, but not enough to house their sheep. So the sheep were sleeping in the cold, which the herders said meant they were producing less milk — which in turn meant less cheese to sell at the market.

“I’ve become a very angry and anxious person,” Ms. Abu Akbash said. “I’m overcome with stress.”

As an Israeli-registered car slowly approached the Abu Akbash family tent, the children ran to scoop up their toys, fearing another demolition was imminent.

“Every car they see,” Ms. Abu Akbash said, “they think it’s the army.”

View Source