By Sara Hussein
YATTA, West Bank (AFP) — Among the gentle slopes of cypress-covered hills near the West Bank city of Hebron is an anomaly, a stinking garbage dump that is workplace and home to dozens of men and boys.

The quiet that hangs over neighboring olive groves, in the far south of the West Bank, is broken here by the shouts of workers, many of them children, and the grinding of a bulldozer covering the picked-over trash with sand and dirt.

Overhead the sky is clear and the sun beats down, heating up the detritus of modern life — vegetable scraps, washing liquid bottles, old clothes, cans with dregs of soda in them.

The smell produced is overpowering at times, a sickly-sweet stench of rotting organic matter and chemical effluvia, which sticks to clothes and hair despite the light breezes that sweep over the hilltop.

At the far end of the hill, created entirely from layers of garbage ploughed over with sand, are makeshift residences — planks of wood with tarpaulin or rubbish bags strapped over them to provide shelter.

For many of those working here, these shacks act as their home during the week, a place they can sleep at night rather than going back to the village of Yatta. And it also means they are on hand to sort out any rubbish that comes in after dark.

It is unpleasant, tiring work, but is a rare source of income in the West Bank, where unemployment stands around 15.2 percent.

Most of the adult workers here once worked in Israel in the 1990s, but found themselves out of a job as security measures were tightened after the start of the second intifada in 2000.

Children find themselves here after their families breadwinners are no longer able to provide.

“My father worked here, but he fell and hurt his leg and he can’t anymore, so he took me out of school and I’ve worked here ever since,” says 17-year-old Mahmud Nabhan.

“I was 12 when he took me out of school, but I don’t want to go back. Me and my brother are the ones that earn money for our whole family.”

He and his 13-year-old brother both sport checkered scarves around their heads, which serve a dual purpose: shielding them from the sun, but also available to be wrapped round their faces to help mitigate the putrid smell.

As the trucks pull up, bringing tons of refuse from neighboring Palestinian towns and villages as well as Israeli settlements, children run toward the back, scrambling to claim bags that could contain valuable materials.

One teenager grabs a single mattress, quickly working to strip the outer layer of fabric, then the foam innards, to reveal its skeleton of metal springs and joists.

Others sort through household rubbish, tossing cans into one pile, plastic tehina containers into another, planks of woods into a third.

A teenager struggles to contain a tangle of red and gray cables that he pulls from one bag, scooping up strays as they slip from his grasp.

“Each person has a spot where they put their stuff, and they sell it themselves, no one is the boss,” says Mohamed Rabie, a talkative 17-year-old with stained front teeth.

The goods that have value — wood, steel, aluminium and plastic — are separated out and then driven to the nearby city of Hebron, where factories process them into consolidated blocks for sale in Israel and overseas.

Not everything is destined for sale though, Rabie says.

“Sometime there are good clothes or materials. We wash them and keep them for ourselves.”

Children as young as 10 work the heaps of rubbish, which once stripped of anything valuable, are covered over with sand, further building up the garbage hill.

“I sleep here each night and go back home every now and then, because trucks come at night,” says Mahmud Talab, a slight boy who gives his age as “either 10 or 11.”

He says he has been working at the site for two or three years, since his father died, leaving his family with no one to provide for them.

Even working all day and sleeping on the site, which has no running water, he can only hope to take home around 20 to 30 shekels (up to $8) a day.

“Jewish garbage is better than Arab garbage because it has more steel in it,” Talab says. “And I need the money right now.”