Speaking from the town on Thursday, Aljazeera.net's correspondent said the destructive effects of the latest Israeli incursion were visible everywhere.

"The main power transformer was badly damaged and so was the town’s water grid, leaving the town’s 15,000 inhabitants without electricity or water.

"The deliberate, wanton vandalism … is apparently meant to wreak havoc on the town and humiliate its populace."

Disbelief

Town Mayor Rashid Mahmud Awad told Aljazeera.net he does not know what caused the Israeli army to destroy such essential infrastructure.

“Our coffers were already empty even before the latest raid. Now, we will have to allocate money to undo the damage inflicted by the Israeli army."

Bait Umar's mayor does not know
how to fund the repairs

Awad estimated the debts owed by the citizens to the Municipal Council at 7 million shekels, or $1,800,000.

Fighting terror

However, an Israeli army spokesman said “troops had to carry out a security operation in Bait Umar to combat terror” - but would not explain why this meant destroying basic services.

The spokesman would not elaborate on the “terror” issue either, but it was clear he was alluding to an incident which took place a day earlier in which some local boys hurled stones at Jewish settlers’ cars traveling on the Hebron-Jerusalem highway.

Ten local boys were injured, one seriously, by rubber-coated bullets fired by soldiers.

One home was reportedly demolished when the military said it had been built without a proper building license.

Another family reported that masked soldiers stole 6000 shekels (roughly US $1400), a fortune for many Palestinians.

Monopoly

Bait Umar is bound by three Jewish settlements - Karmi Tsur, Itzion and Ifrat - all inhabited by ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers. 

Fighting 'terror' has led to the
almost total destruction of services

Since the outbreak of the Intifada more than 40 months ago, the Israeli army has sought to throttle Bait Umar by closing its main exit to the outside world, the Hebron-Jerusalem intersection, apparently to ensure safety and security for the settlers.

The unmitigated closure, now entering its 40th month, not only prevents local farmers from reaching their farms on the other side of the street, but also makes it impossible for the agriculture-dependent town to market and export its produces.

Last year, most of the grapes produced in Bait Umar was left to rot due to the Israeli blockade. One farmer told Aljazeera.net he was forced to sell his grapes for the equivalent of 23 cents a kilo.

“It is as if I threw the entire product to the animals,” said the impoverished farmer bitterly.

Closing business

The strangling closure also forced most of 30 marble processiing factories out of business.

The owner of one the only asphalt factory in the Hebron region, Yusuf al-Khatib, described the closure on Bait Umar as the “tightest anywhere.”

“Imagine they wouldn’t allow me to move several truckloads of asphalt from my factory to a road we were paving west of Dura.”

“I had to buy asphalt from a Jewish contractor at a much higher price; it is not only political enslavement, it is economic enslavement as well."