It can feel like you’ve been hired as an extra chaperone at a children’s party. On most Saturdays in Um Safa, Sa‘id ‘Awad packs his wife Rima and six, seven, or eight of his fourteen children into his lively SUV, all of them bumping and bouncing on the uneven roads. After a short hike to the family’s fields in Wadi Al-‘Ara’is, the soccer games begin.
Taybeh: the fertile wadi, Irish-green after the rains, plowed and sown with seed along with another flat stony stretch at the top of the hill—maybe 1000 dunams altogether (250 acres), enough to keep several families and their herds going for some months. The land belongs to several private Palestinian owners in the village; they rent it out to Bedouins who live there in the spring and summer, grazing their sheep and harvesting whatever is left of the crops after the settlers and their herds have gotten to them. Last year the Palestinians lost tens of thousands of shekels because of these depredations. Just yesterday one settler boy-man hit Arik hard on the head with a club, splitting in two the helmet Arik was fortunately wearing.
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.
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, some of which you may see here, in this video from Yaniv Junam.
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.