April 6-8, 1903 (Julian calendar), Kishinev, Bessarabia: A mob, led partly by Orthodox Russian priests, descends upon the town, killing 49 Jews, wounding scores more, raping many Jewish women, burning down Jewish homes. The local police stand by, watching, making no attempt to stop the massacre. Some of the Jewish men fight back with the meager tools in their possession. Children see their parents murdered before their eyes. Shock waves engulf the Jewish communities of eastern Europe and beyond. In response, many Jewish young men join the anti-Czarist revolutionaries; others leave for Palestine to build a new life for the Jews. Bialik, the national Hebrew poet, writes an epic poem on the massacre.
Umm Rashid, the most intrepid of the ‘Auja shepherdesses, has sold off most of her sheep and goats. I don’t have all the details; a close friend of hers sold her herd a few months earlier. I assume she couldn’t take any more of the ceaseless harassment, beatings, and threats from the settlers. But I don’t think this is the end of the story.
Just after dawn, the air still cold; Umm Rashid tells us on the phone that she plans to take the herd deeper into the hills, closer to the big settlement, where there’s more edible green on the ground. Good, we say, we’re with you. But it takes some time before we find each other in the open spaces of the desert. A second herd, Nawal’s, is just visible on the top of the ridge.
Umm Al-‘Ara’is. We must see at least twenty soldiers. The first few are friendly. They say they’d been stationed in the territories for four months. When Zev asks them to describe their duties, one of them answers, “stopping people randomly from going to work.” This sets a pattern for the day.
Remember Sa’id and his many children who accompany him every week to the fields? I hadn’t seen them for nearly three years, but I could recognize them at a distance from Jibrin’s pastures (if you can call a rocky patch with a few scrubby thorns a “pasture”) as they arrived for their weekly visit on the ridge far above us. Then they descended into the next wadi and disappeared.