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.
A-Rakiz is perched on the sharp spine of a rocky ridge in the South Hebron hills. It would be a charming, if rugged, place to live were it not for the ruins of its houses scattered over the village lands and for the two illegal settlements of Avigail and Chavat Maon on either side. A-Rakiz has a history of house demolitions going back some years. On November 25, 2020, the army destroyed another five houses there, including that of Harun’s parents, Rasmi and Farsi, and the one Rasmi built for Harun and his bride-to-be. Since then the family has been living in one of the caves still more or less intact in the village. It’s cold in the cave during these winter months. I know, I sat there with the parents for some hours last week.
Abu Isma‘il promises me that if I come every day, he’ll teach me the language of the sheep. In time, I could become fluent. It’s an offer that’s hard to resist. Those throaty clucks and clicks and lengthy grunts and warbles—to my ears, it’s like some rustic dialect of Italian.
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.