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The Only Democracy? » On The Ground Reports » Please Help the Enrichment Learning Program at the Cave Dwellers Village Umm-Fakra

Please Help the Enrichment Learning Program at the Cave Dwellers Village Umm-Fakra

Dear Friends,

We are appealing to you to ask your assistance in operating a learning enrichment program for the children of the cave-dwellers’ community of Umm-Fakra.

For the last two years we have assisted in conducting an enrichment programs for children in the Bedouin communities of Umm El-Kheir, bordering on the settlement of Carmel.

In light of the positive experience with such programs, and in response to a local initiative – we would like to assist in opening yet another center of learning enrichment programs for children in South Mount Hebron, this time in the locality Umm-Fakra. The annual cost for the first pilot year is estimated at only $4,000 or 3,000 Euro. The Villages Group is able to offer tax-deductible donation via partners in the US and UK (see our donation link for details).

We would be most grateful if you could take the time to read the attached plan (a text-only version follows below), and contact us if you are interested in contributing in any way to its advancement.

This appeal refers to both the new program in Umm-Fakra and to the general initiative of enrichment programs in South Mount Hebron.


Erella and Ehud,

The Villages Group


Enrichment Learning Program for Children Aged 6-14 in Umm-Fakra, South Hebron Hills (Massafar Yatta), Occupied West Bank

The Villages Group, December 2010


  1. To establish an educational framework for strengthening and enriching students in primary school to help them cope with learning difficulties and prevent dropout.
  2. To empower an Umm-Fakra resident who is the village’s first university graduate, by employing him to establish and implement the learning & enrichment classes.
  3. The overall goal here—as elsewhere in the South Hebron Mountain—is to empower the residents of Umm-Fakra and support them in their efforts to strengthen and empower their communities. The internal strength of these communities will enable them to withstand the many difficulties they face, and to continue living on their lands.


The South Hebron Hills (Massafar Yatta) is a mountainous region located in the southern part of the West Bank. Many of its residents are cave dwellers, living in traditional villages. During the years of Israeli occupation, some of these cave villages were destroyed by the army, while others have been deserted by their inhabitants under pressure from Israeli settlers. Those still in existence were saved from eviction by the Israeli authorities through a cooperative effort of local residents and Israeli and international human right organizations.

The surviving villages are not recognized by the Israeli occupation authorities, which have disregarded international law requiring that an occupying force take responsibility for the welfare of residents living in occupied areas. The policy of non-recognition means that the villagers still residing in the area are denied basic services, such as water, electricity, and building permits. It should be noted that the Oslo Accords placed the South Hebron Mountain in Area C, that is, in the areas for which Israel has full responsibility.

Umm-Fakra (Fig. 1) is one of the villages that have survived in spite of the harsh conditions. To its south lies the Arad valley, and to the north – Tuwani, the only recognized Palestinian village in the region. On its eastern perimeter it is flanked by the settlement Ma’on and the violent outpost Chavat Ma’on, while the settlement Avigail sits on Umm-Fakra’s lands to the west. The presence of these settlements severely curtails the access of Umm-Fakra’s residents to the agricultural lands and grazing grounds they legally own, and which provide most of their livelihood.

Of the approximately 120 souls in Umm-Fakra, 30 are children ages 6 through 14 (1st through 8th grades). Today, they attend the primary school in Tuwani, a half-hour walk from their homes. Although Tuwani is a recognized village, the school operates only four hours a day, because Israel’s occupation authorities governing the area do not provide support for the educational system, and the resources provided instead by the Palestinian Authority are minimal.


Umm-Fakra’s residents live under harsh conditions: mountainous topography, desert climate, limited sources of livelihood, constant threat of eviction by the occupation authorities, and a de facto creeping eviction by the neighboring settlements.

The harsh conditions, as well as the limited support from an undermined educational system for both struggling students and the most talented ones, are causing learning difficulties: some students fail to acquire the basic skills of reading, writing, and math, while those who master the skills often fail to keep up with their studies at later stages. Many students end up dropping out to help their families out with livelihood and house chores.

Post-elementary education is even harder to obtain. The nearest high school is more than an hour’s walk away, placing students at the mercy of hostile settlers. To reach the universities located in the towns of Yatta and Hebron students must use limited and expensive transportation.

Responsibility for the Program:

Responsibility for establishing and running the proposed program will be taken by Mr. Ali Hmamdeh (Fig. 2). Ali was born and raised in Umm-Fakra. With tenacity and resourcefulness, he has been able to overcome numerous difficulties and successfully graduate from the program in Arabic and Education at the Open University in Yatta (July 2009). He is the first Umm-Fakra resident to hold an academic degree. However, like many degree holding Palestinians, he remains unemployed – victim of a paralyzed occupation economy, and of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to remedy the situation.

Ali has the ability and the desire to contribute to others. Umm-Fakra needs his services. It was Ali who first proposed the idea for an enrichment program for students in his community. Moreover, the members of the Villages’ Group, who have helped fund Ali’s academic studies, support his proposal and are doing what they can to bring it to life.

Program details:

  • Status: Pilot plan for one year (school year and summer vacation).
  • Target population: Umm-Fakra children enrolled in elementary school, 1st through 8th grades (about 30 in all).
  • Place: Existing tent, located over Ali Hmamdeh’s family cave (Fig. 3).
  • Program running times: Weekends (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), 16:00 to 19:00.
  • Educational framework: Two age groups: 6-9 and 10-14; each group will meet for 1.5 hours on each of the three days.
  • Areas of study:
    • Reading and writing skills;
    • Math for beginning grades;
    • Arabic, History, Geography, Quran and tradition.

Additional areas of study will require hiring a second teacher and are proposed for a later phase of the program, based on the success of the initial pilot. These would include: English, Sciences, Art.


Teacher’s salary: NIS 12,000 (calculated at NIS 1,000 per month for 12 months)

Furnishing: NIS 1,000 for desks and seats

Teaching materials: NIS 200 for blackboard;

NIS 500 for chalks, pens, pencils, notebooks, etc.

Reserve: NIS 1,000


Total: NIS 14,700

[approximately US $4,000 or 3,000 Euro at December 2010 rates]

Note: estimated cost is for the first pilot year.


Erella Dunayevsky

Ehud Krinis

Written by

Assaf Oron works as a statistician and moonlights (voluntarily) as a human-rights activist and blogger. He arrived in Seattle from Israel in 2002 for studies, and for now is sticking with the local greyness, dampness and uber-politeness, while plotting his glorious repatriation to the land of eternal sunshine and rudeness. Meanwhile, he tries to explain to anyone who cares to listen, what the Occupation is and why it must be ended now, not later. Assaf is webmaster for the Israeli human rights organization "Villages Group"

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