The rains have come in force, the hills are muddy, and there is food for the goats and sheep. Over morning tea in Makhul we get the weekly litany of hurts. Walid—still a boy—was out alone with the herd, and settlers came and beat him. It’s really dangerous to be alone on the hills. A large posse of settlers attacked Qadri and several others; there were two broken legs. A few days earlier, settlers killed Qadri’s uncle’s cow.
The count is stark and simple. Last week the ‘Auja shepherds went out to graze their flocks six times. Five of those times our activists were there to accompany them and protect them, and the grazing went well, more or less. On Monday we couldn’t be there, so they didn’t go out at all. It’s a scary business. Settlers and soldiers lie in wait. On Saturday, they took the sheep out, and soldiers drove them away.
Four months in quarantine; the virus now raging again in Israel-Palestine; and I’m back where I belong. The hardest part of the lock-down was not seeing our grandchildren face to face; second hardest, not coming to be with the shepherds.
Job—Ayyub in Arabic—the most tragic figure in the Hebrew Bible, lived and suffered in Silwan, in east Jerusalem, as the Silwanis proudly say. His well, Bir Ayyub, is just down the road from the Dung Gate that leads to the Haram al-Sharif and the Western Wall. Near the top of that hill, in the Wadi Hilwe neighborhood, stands the stone house of the Sumarin family. It happens to be adjacent to the visitors’ center that the settler group El’ad has created in order to indoctrinate schoolchildren and tourists in their nationalist narrative about Silwan, which they call the City of David. They mean King David, the Psalmist. Settlers like to tell their visitors that he walked the streets of Wadi Hilwe, with their barbed-wire settler enclaves and guards carrying machine guns. I rather doubt that there was such a person, but occasionally, over the years, in the Silwan demonstrations, amidst the tear gas and the stun grenades, I’ve caught a glimpse of a heartsick poet hovering nearby, someone like Job.
I missed the pogrom at ‘Auja west, or ‘Auja Fok, last Friday, though I was just a few kilometers away with the shepherds. Some thirty armed settler thugs descended on the village at midday, wielding sticks and metal bars, creating havoc.
It’s a tiny dot deep in the desert, hidden in a wild sweep of hills and rock and narrow goat-tracks, brown-beige-gold. It’s the end of the world. A rough road takes you there. There’s a bigger village, Isfay, on the ridge above it; they have a health clinic and a wind turbine. Magha’ir al-‘Abid, “Caves of the Slaves,” has a few dozen souls, most of whom live in caves. Each of the caves has a carved stone façade, and inside they’re well appointed, clean, warm on this sunny mid-winter day. Outside you hear wind rippling over sand and the gentle bleating of goats and sheep.