Like so many Palestinian villages in the central West Bank, between Ramallah and Jericho, Ein Rashash is hanging by a thread in the perilous space between life and death. A massive program of ethnic cleansing is taking place before our eyes. Israeli settlers, religious in some perverted sense of the word, have perfected very effective methods to reach their goal. Readers of this blog are familiar with some of them.
Now it’s the turn of Ein Rashash. Settlers from the illegal outposts are making this stunning place, situated on the ridge overlooking the Jordan Valley, into a living hell. They enter the village at all times of the day and night. Usually they are armed with guns and clubs. They attack, they throw rocks, they yell over their megaphones and threaten and curse, they enter the tents, open the refrigerators (if there is one) and steal whatever they want, break whatever they find. They take their herds of sheep into the little that is left of the Palestinian fields (more on this in a moment). Sometimes they sic their dogs on the sheep. Sometimes they drive their tractors through the village, just for fun. Then they burn down the tents. In short: a reign of continuous terror.
For example, on June 24, settlers came and attacked Haj Salameh Zawahra, who is 85 or 86 or 87 years old (he’s uncertain about the date of birth). They smashed his head with a club and wounded him with a heavy rock aimed at his back. Soldiers were present, standing idly by. These soldiers then isolated Haj Salameh, bleeding profusely, from the other men in the village and delayed his evacuation to hospital. Three Palestinians were arrested (for the crime of having been attacked). Nothing happened to the marauding settlers. In short, business as usual. Miraculously, Haj Salameh survived. He can walk, slowly, and talk in a whisper. He seems frail. He sleeps much of the day.
None of this is new, but the sheer systemic intensity of the violence, and the fact that it is not merely supported but actively fomented by the government, have created the new situation of “transfer,” that is, expulsion. As I reported in my last post, some 40,000 acres in this part of the West Bank are now sanitized of non-Jews. We are doing what we can to support the threatened communities; at Ein Rashash, Wadi Siq, and several other sites we have activists in place 24/7, in shifts, to protect the Palestinians. Danny Danieli and I had the morning shift today, which in the end stretched for some hours more, overlapping with the afternoon shift. There was lots of time to talk with our hosts.
They bring us coffee, tea, a breakfast of pita and labneh and za‘atar. ‘Id, Haj Salameh’s son, speaks the horror. “We don’t know how long we can hold out here. Some people are already talking of leaving, but most of us want to stay. Maybe we’ll last a year, at best. What is left for us? They have closed off nearly all our grazing grounds. We hardly go farther than about 20 meters from our tents. We’re under siege. If I have to go out for even half an hour, my heart is heavy with fear for what will happen at home. What will we eat? We used to sell a male sheep, in hard times, but we would keep the ewes. Now we sell the ewes as well, to survive. All we have is the dust we walk on. If you weren’t here with us, we would be in prison, or in hospital, or in exile, or dead.”
I remember Ein Rashash in slightly better times, some four years ago. We came often to accompany the shepherds. Then their grazing grounds extended over several kilometers of fertile hills across the wadi and also higher up on the slope where the tents and sheep-pens are clustered. Settlers would turn up and attack the Palestinians and us, not infrequently. They would try to run over sheep and shepherds and activists with their horses, and they would scatter the flocks over the hills. We came to know those settlers from the outpost named, without irony, “Angels of Peace” (Malachei Hashalom– in memory of two settlers killed by terrorists, Malachi Rosenfeld and Shuli Har Melech). ‘Id remembers the day when their leader, Elhanan, said, “I am the army here, I am the police, and I, only I, am the government.” It turned out to be true. At one point the settlers proposed what they called a “neighborly agreement,” brokered in part by the army. We had our doubts. Eventually the attacks stopped for a while—the Palestinian shepherds kept their distance from the fertile hills and wadi– and we moved on to other places. But the remorseless theft of Palestinian land never stopped. Now the grazing lands are out of bounds—that is, stolen.
I think I’ll take the night shift next week. It’s beautiful at night on those hills. The night breeze is a caress. You can see the stars, not like you see them from the city. You can hear the rocks singing. And there is the soft music of the sheep bells, a godly melody, sometimes accompanied by a little bleating and ovine moaning, before sleep. And ‘Id, our friend, is there, and his father and his brothers and their wives and the many children. And there is the fear that enemies may come at any moment with their guns.
Speaking of the godly, this morning, before dawn, when I was waiting for Arik to take us to Ein Rashash, I was thinking of the words the Bible put in the mouth of Moses, speaking for god, whoever she or he may be: “And these words that I command you today will be upon your heart.” It’s part of the morning prayers. I love them, especially at that hour. OK—but what words does she (or her spokesman) mean? I think that that she, if she exists, is not preoccupied with the ritual commandments, for all their beauty and potential depth. But I am certain that she cares a lot about cruelty and greed and violence and theft and lying, and also about doing what one can to resist them. Surely that is what was meant when she said “upon your heart.”
text: David Shulman ©2023. Photographs as credited ©2023