There is little to distinguish this tiny Arab village perched on an outcropping of rocks in the harsh hills about 10 miles south of Hebron -- not even a place on most maps of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But now it has become the focus of a Cabinet dispute -- and local anger -- over an Israeli plan to turn it into an industrial park to provide jobs for the area's Jewish settlers.
The village's 15 extended families, comprising 150 people, live in block-like concrete houses that have a look of being unfinished even though they have been lived in for years. The village's small goat herds bed down at night in the ruins of Dir Razah's original houses, some of them 400 years old or more.
Gnarled old olive trees dot the sides of surrounding hills, and in the small wadis, or valleys, every available foot of cultivable land is planted with vegetables and vineyards.
Old men dressed in traditional Arab robes and headscarves sit in front of their houses for hours in the warm afternoon sun, as if patiently watching the crops grow.
Remote and commercially unimportant, Dir Razah remains essentially unchanged from the early 19th century, when the Turkish Ottoman ruler, Sultan Abdul Hamid, granted land to a local headman named Abdul Rahman Amrou in exchange for guarding the region against Bedouin raiders.
It was with no little surprise, therefore, that the Arab residents greeted the motorcade of cars that entered the village a week ago unannounced, led by Israeli Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and an entourage of aides and Israeli television photographers.
As security police cleared residents from an overlook at the village's highest point, Sharon unfolded a map outlining a planned 150-acre industrial park to serve Jewish settlers and -- on camera -- told an aide he wanted the area closed within a few weeks and road construction to begin immediately thereafter.
Then, Arab residents said, the motorcade left as quickly as it had arrived, without any Israeli official explaining to them the purpose of the visit. It was not until evening, they said, that they learned of the fate of their village from an Israeli television news broadcast.
"I saw pictures of my village on television and heard talk of a settlement. I know a border policeman named Avraham, and when I asked him about it, all he said was 'Sharon came for a visit of five minutes and went away,' " said Ismail Othman Amrou, a local farmer.
Other Dir Razah residents said they still do not know what is being planned for their village, although some said they feared that their land would be expropriated.
A senior aide to Sharon, contacted later, said the plan calls for a government-sponsored industrial park that will provide jobs for Jews who live in 11 settlements in the area and now have to commute to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv for work. He said it is one of two such projects Sharon has approved for the Hebron area, and that after the government installs the parks' facilities, private industrialists would be invited to build factories.
The Sharon aide said that only "state land" would be used, meaning land formerly controlled by the Jordanian government and designated public land after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war.
However, Dir Razah residents said that the land to which Sharon pointed when he visited here includes privately owned, deeded property and what is known as miri land -- once-Turkish Ottoman state land that villagers have cultivated for generations and on which they have paid taxes successively to the Turks, Jordanians and Israelis.
Dir Razah residents said that while they have become accustomed to having Arab-cultivated West Bank land seized for Jewish settlement, they were particularly incensed that Sharon and his entourage came here to publicly declare the area "closed" without talking with villagers during the visit.
Sharon's plan has also generated controversy within the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, with some Labor Party ministers complaining that it violates the September 1984 "national unity" coalition agreement limiting new Jewish settlements to six, and that it also would deplete funds needed for new development towns in Israel itself.
Gad Yaacobi, minister of economics and planning, has demanded a Cabinet debate on the Dir Razah plan, saying that Sharon's announcement last week was "devoid of authority" and warning that it constitutes "another nail in the coffin of a political settlement between us, Jordan and the Palestinians."
Sharon denied that his plan will violate the coalition agreement, telling reporters, "There is no connection. . . . This is an industrial area."
The Arab residents of Dir Razah, having learned from journalists what Sharon plans for the village's land, say they will go to court to try to block expropriation.
One, Kamal Othman, said, "If the bulldozers come, we will block the road. We will try to stop him with all the means we have, even if we have to go to jail. Our land is the only thing that we have."