One momentous event took place during today’s grazing. I’ll tell you in a minute.
By 8:00 the shepherds are already crossing the highway into the shimmering wadi spread out before them. We are there to watch over them for the next five hours or so. Six herds today, each with its shepherd and his son or sons, also a donkey. They spread out over the wadi and the hills, a gossamer of black and white against the distant rocks and thorns.
Mhammad tells us by phone, upon arrival: a settler is nearby. We see him, too close, dressed in white, with his flock of black goats. Don’t worry, we say to Mhammad. We’re with you.
We split into two groups. Aman and I are high up on the ridge, where we have a commanding view of the entire valley, with Mhammad and his son Suleiman. Yigal, Allen, and Erika join one of the large herds down below. After a couple of hours, when the early-morning settler has finally gone away and everything looks OK, I say to Suleiman: “Maybe we will go join one of the other herds now.” “Don’t do that,” he says, clearly alarmed. “The minute you’re not here, they—the settlers—will be at our throats.” His father has said the same thing earlier: “If I can’t see you, I know there will be problems.” Followed by the litany of pain, hurt, humiliation, heavy blows.
That’s their life. Every time one of the settler vehicles passes on the dirt road to and from their hodge-podge outpost, a disorderly heap of tents and pens, in fact a terrorists’ nest, the shepherds grow visibly tense. Today there are five or six such moments. At the end, just past noon, as the last herd is heading home to Muarrajat, one of those settler cars suddenly appears in their path. Woman driver, another woman beside her, both religious, as we can see from their head coverings. Giggling, enjoying life, the Passover holiday, they drive right through the outer circle of goats, nearly running over one or two of them. Must be fun, killing goats like that. The herd scatters. When the car has passed, the goats re-coalesce, like drops of mercury spilled on stone.
All told, this was a peaceful morning, the hills still covered in green after the winter, though in the desert the green fades quickly. There is plenty for the goats and sheep to feast upon. And now, just as we are about to accompany the last stragglers back across the highway, the miracle happens.
Ibrahim, dressed in some ragged, cast-off army uniform, holds up a new-born kid, still wet, oozing sticky amniotic fluid, his eyes wide open: the world in all its splendor pouring in, fresh, thick, unspoiled.
Welcome, we say, may Allah give you health. They put him in the baby seat hanging down on the donkey for his first ride home, his first ride anywhere on this earth. His first half hour of life. The mother—no time to rest; dripping red onto the path—has to walk home with the rest of the herd. Is she happy? Does she know it’s Ramadan, a holy moment? As for the new father, so to speak, sharing the wonder, he has no words.
text and photographs 2023 © David Shulman