June 2, 2018, Ramadan: Umm al-Amad and Bi’r al-Id.

1. Umm al-Amad

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Three weeks ago,  resourceful little Walaa was quick-witted enough to use her cell phone to film settlers flying a drone and when the settlers suspected her, to pretend convincingly to be on a call with her aunt. A week later, she leaned against Aziza’s legs, drooping and coughing. Aziza, clearly concerned, kept feeling Walaa’s forehead and eventually sent her home.

20180519-BC5A4000crplvlcrv2.jpgThat first weekend of Ramadan was exceptionally hot, over 30 degrees in the shade. The children were limp.

20180519-BC5A3997crplvlcrvMembers of the activist group Ta’ayush travel from Jerusalem to South Hebron every week on Shabbat, answering requests from Palestinian shepherds and farmers to accompany them and their flocks to their lands which are close to Israeli settlements. On Ramadan it is not always obvious why we make the trip. In fact, there are fewer volunteers than at other times, and we don’t see many Palestinians either. Here, in Umm al-Amad, without so much as water to sustain them on a hot day, shepherds rarely venture down from the hills near home with their flocks into the more intense heat of the valleys close to the settlements.

After sending Walaa home, Aziza remained safely uphill with the sheep. Come earlier next time she says and we do. Today, beginning with Umm al-Amad, I try to comprehend why we are here. As it turns out, soldiers and settlers make the task easier.

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We arrive by seven, and it is cooler than last week. From under her canopy, we hear Aziza explain that she will stay home today anyway with both children. We follow Seff and the sheep through the morning fog past orchards where walls of tires protect the new trees from the goats. From there we descend into the wadi.

20180602-BC5A4434crvWhen the fog lifts, we are joined by soldiers. One of us overhears their report: “There are four anarchists here.” The soldiers’ task is to keep the shepherd and the flock away from the settlement by drawing an imaginary line and preventing them from crossing it.

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These are city boys from Tel Aviv, loaded down with weaponry, but determined to enjoy a day in the country.

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They pose for pictures and baa at the sheep,

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It’s a poor substitute for the sound of the shepherd, who controls his flock through virtuoso cries and high-pitched whines as well as strategically aimed stones.

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Eventually we all settle down to the game of watching: Seff watches the sheep; the soldiers watch Seff and the anarchists; and the anarchists (Guy, Pepe, Caron and me) watch everyone, including each other.

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Once Seff crosses another imaginary line, safely beyond the boundary of the settlement, the soldiers drive away. Is it an empty exercise? The shepherds say no. They ask us to come because when they arrive without “anarchists” they have reason to be afraid.

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2. Bi’r al-Id

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With little we can do to help, we use Ramadan to do tasks on our own. One of them is to labor on the impassable road from Bi’r al-‘Id.  Someday it will lead, as it once must have, to Jinba.

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Our hands encased in hot plastic work gloves, we collect rocks from the slopes and bring them to the road in buckets. Then as though assembling a jigsaw puzzle, we artfully arrange the rocks in the gaps: little rocks go here, bigger rocks go there, and the biggest rocks go in the deepest holes.

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If only we could import heavy equipment and truckloads of materials the work would have ended long ago. At this rate only the youngest among us might live to see it finished. We have written about this absurd process before: here and here. But at least on a hot day like today we will not stay long and I have never known settlers to disturb this work.

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Until today. “How about ten more buckets of rocks?” Amiel says, “and then we’ll leave.” At this moment, the two grown sons of the deceased owner of nearby Nof Nesher (population 4) arrive with a friend. They bring with them police, with whom they have lodged numerous complaints about us, and soldiers. We are picking wild Zatar, a protected plant; the land on which we are working is theirs; a nine-year-old Palestinian girl has tried to stab them. As it happens, zatar does not grow along this road (The zatar ban is a story in itself: you can read about it here); their settlement is illegal even according to Israeli law, and no map places the road on their farm; the story about the child is nonsense.

Documents in hand, the police check our IDs or passports, draw some of us, and some of the settlers aside, and begin nearly endless discussions.

20180602-BC5A4690lvlctr.jpgAll this time volunteers are hurriedly continuing the work. Bucket after bucket of rocks pour out onto the road and punctuate the conversations of the bored girlfriend, the shouting of the loudmouth brother in the green hat and the sullen responses of the one in the white tee shirt. Most of the conversation is out of earshot but occasionally a shouted phrase comes through like “Eretz Yisrael!”; “All this is ours!” Did I hear one of them yell “Misrahi!” at the soldier with the Arabic accent?

The soldiers and the police are not fond of these two who constantly bring complaints, but they are not fond of us either. Their lives would be easier if we would only stay in Jerusalem minding our own business.

20180602-BC5A4758crvNow the brothers carry out a clever plan. They start to pick up stones we have fitted into the road and toss them back onto the slopes. As one glances in my direction I recognize a grimace I used to see frequently in my middle school days.

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20180602-BC5A4762lvlcrv.jpgWhen they tire of throwing stones they start to build piles of them like little toy roadblocks.

20180602-BC5A4743crpcrv.jpg“I have at least as much right to move rocks around the road as they have.” Finally, one policeman loses his patience.

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A soldier declares the zone closed and everyone leaves. First the brothers leave, and then we pick up our tools and leave, too. We leave hurriedly, because suddenly we are under pressure: we have five minutes to gather our people, gather our things and leave.

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Aggravated, I complain as we walk back toward the beginning of the road. But Amiel, who sees possibilities in nearly every situation, reminds me that thanks to the brothers, we worked longer and accomplished more than we would have otherwise. They were, after all, the only reason we stayed. Did I notice any soldier who may be motivated to rethink the occupation by what happened this afternoon?

I don’t know.

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But what about the rocks that the settlers threw off the road?

Trivial.

 

3. Highway 356, between Hebron and Bani Na’im.

20180602-BC5A4778crvOn the way back to Jerusalem we pass a ruined vineyard, like one we passed on highway 60 last week. This time, its owners are standing by the side of the road.

20180602-BC5A4818crvWe stop and let Mohammed and Abu Abdella show us how the dead vines, cut near the base by settlers, still hang from the top of the structure built to support them.

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20180602-BC5A4805crvlvlThey show us a cellphone picture of the same graffiti we saw last week at a burnt wheat field at Ad Deirat: “Enough agricultural terror. We will spread everywhere.”

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They invite us in, but there is no way to serve us anything. After all, it is Ramadan.

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Suddenly my throat feels parched, even though I have been drinking water all day.

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text and photographs margaret olin © 2018

2018-06-02 11.48.29

Uneasy Reprieves: March 24, Umm al-Amad; March 26 Al-Auja

20180324-BC5A1011lvlcrvMarch 24, Umm al-Amad

It’s cold. It’s raining. Aziza serves us hot tea.

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20180324-BC5A1022lvlcrp2She shows us the baby goats, some only a few weeks, or days, old.

20180324-BC5A1023-editAnd then it is time to take the flock to graze . . .

20180324-BC5A1038crvlvlunder the huge settlement, Otniel. Ahmad, her son, is with us.

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Walla, Ahmad’s sister, who has been seen here before, is everywhere

20180324-BC5A1039lvlcrv20180324-BC5A1079crvSo is contentment.

20180324-BC5A1047crpcrv2Eventually, we see that, up on the hill, four soldiers have apparently been assigned to keep an eye on us.20180324-BC5A1082crv

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20180324-BC5A1087lvlcrv.jpgAfter they leave, we almost forget them. Ahmad, who is studying at the Polytechnic in Hebron, talks about his exam in electricity tomorrow. He studies Hebrew there, too, and takes the opportunity to discuss with Li those pesky Hebrew nouns that are masculine but have feminine plural forms.

So we don’t notice them again until they are close.

20180324-BC5A1092crvlvlThe soldiers tried to make conversation.

20180324-BC5A1115crv.jpgBut when they try to talk to Elisheva, she starts to sing. Soon others are singing, and after they exhaust their two-song repertoire of protest songs, they fall into a sullen silence.

20180324-BC5A1101.JPGTo Ahmad: “I have your picture; I know where you live. Today you come with these people and you are safe but tomorrow what will you accomplish?”

20180324-BC5A1134crvAhmad says he does not want the children speaking to people who have guns.

20180324-BC5A1129crv.jpg“Perhaps it would be better,” I cannot resist suggesting, “if the gun were not actually pointing at the child.” He ignores me.

In answer to Ahmad he says, with no trace of irony, “What kind of values are you teaching this child?

20180324-BC5A1123crv.jpgTomorrow, you will be alone.”

*****

20180326-BC5A1145-editWe are on the other side of Al-Auja from Mevo’ot Yericho where we were Friday. On Saturday in South Hebron, it was cold and wet. Two days later, in the Jordan Valley, it is dry and hot. Today, when our presence seems sufficient to keep settlers from showing up to harass shepherds and scare away the sheep, and no police have come by to investigate . . .

20180326-BC5A1158crv.jpgthe four of us finally have time to ask the important question:

20180326-BC5A1154crvWhat can these sheep possibly be finding to eat? This rocky mountainside is nothing like the lush meadow grass we saw Saturday in South Hebron.

20180326-BC5A1169lvlcrvPerhaps they are being nourished as I am, simply on texture and light.

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20180326-BC5A1192crvlvlThe sheep return home,

20180326-BC5A1191crvKettles are placed on fires, and we make the rounds of compounds, sipping tea and tasting cheeses, fresh vegetables and eggs.

20180326_114353-Arik-Auja-rot.jpgThe talk is mostly discouraging and only occasionally hopeful, all of it anxious. Everyone knows that today is just a reprieve. Many of the families are tired of constant harassment by settlers and indifference, or worse, from the police.

20180326-BC5A1206rotrawAt one stop it is a woman who gives us tea. She impresses us with her seriousness about our shared mission and goals. As we leave, she thanks us one by one and looks especially closely at the two oldest among us.

20180326-BC5A1200crv“I fear for your children,” she says. In her experience, when a family member opposes the occupation, the whole family has to pay for it. I wonder if she has that in mind or whether this is her usual way of speculating on the future. It is moving but also surprising. Looking at me, she adds, “I am a mother, too.”

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text and photographs margaret olin © 2018

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December 2, 2017 Umm al-Amad, Ma‘in David Shulman

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Umm al-Amad, July, 2017. photograph: Margaret Olin

He’s young, the lieutenant; the faint trace of a mustache tells all. Awkward, inexperienced, unsure. More than a boy, hardly a man. He speaks fast, the words clipped, sharp, hurtful. He keeps playing with his rifle, waving it, aiming it, caressing it, turning it upside down, comforting it when it somehow rights itself again. The bullet clip is loaded; I can’t see if the safety catch is released. I don’t like any of this, for two reasons. First, I don’t like guns. I had to carry one, when I was a little older than the lieutenant, and I hated it. Second, I don’t like men who like guns.

GuyB-UmmalAmad1Photo: Guy Butavia

He’s here to drive the shepherds off their lands. He’s got the Closed Military Zone order, not in its usual hard-copy form, a piece of paper signed by the Brigade Commander, but on his cell phone. Not good enough, we say, show us the order and the signature. There’s no signature on the cell phone. No, he says. We’re more advanced than we used to be.

20140607_Taayush-Shepherd0903-EditUmm al-Amad, June, 2014. photograph: margaret olin*

So Guy tells him clearly, and mildly, that the order is illegal, and we have with us the Supreme Court ruling to prove it. After years of struggle in Umm al-Amad, with all the usual travails—repeated expulsions, beatings, arrests, endless threats, routine state terror, as we fought, week by week, literally meter by meter, to extend the area the shepherds could reclaim as theirs– the Supreme Court recognized that the wadi and the hills beneath the settlement of Otniel were Palestinian lands that the people of Umm al-Amad and Karama and the other villages could freely use. It took us some four years on the ground and in the courts to win back the stolen terrain. Guy carries the ruling with him whenever he comes here. The lieutenant takes it, glances at it, and says, “This means nothing to me. I have my orders. Get these shepherds out of here.”

“Why?”

Kacha—because.”

“What you are doing is illegal.”

“It’s no concern of mine. I’ll be quite happy to arrest them, handcuff them, blindfold them, and leave them lying like that for some hours in the settlement.”

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Photograph: Elena Mucciarelli

“You have no right to threaten them like that. This is their land.”

“I can do what I want. I don’t need any papers to prove it. I have my gun.”

But he doesn’t look as cocksure as he sounds. He keeps glancing around at his soldiers. There are five of them, in the usual get-up. Helmets, rifles, boots. Some of them seem to me not too happy. But then, when are soldiers happy? It’s worse, I know from experience, when they have an officer who’s no damned good.

The lieutenant likes to issue threats. “I’m very affable,” he says to us, “but when people don’t obey me I get physical and violent very quickly. I don’t like it.” This is the only language he knows, impoverished beyond belief, and I don’t think he’s recently, or maybe ever, had an original thought. However, as an afterthought, he says to his men, “We’re doing this today for the Motherland, the moledet.” Never has the Hebrew word sounded to me so sinister.

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Umm al-Amad, June, 2014  photograph: margaret olin

Then there’s the question of the map that accompanies the digital CMZ order, as it must. The whole business is illegal, but the lieutenant, who’s not so good at reading maps, compounds the crime. Since we’re worried about what will happen to ‘Abed and Ahmad and Hamid if they get arrested, we’re prepared to move farther away from the settlement, up the wadi, to the hillside that is clearly outside the line on the map. But that’s not good enough for our lieutenant. He thinks the shepherds have to go home, get out of there, not be there, not be. He tells them this in pigeon Arabic, horrible to the ear. Guy, who’s good at maps, tells him over and over that the hill we’re retreating to is beyond the arbitrary line of the map. The lieutenant, unable to lose face, insists that his orders are to clear them out altogether, to make them disappear. He says: “Get them off my lands.” I wonder why he thinks they’re his. We demand that he summon the Matak, a senior officer from the Civil Administration, to settle this point. Now.

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He calls the Matak—or someone else. Who can say? Now we wait. Every once in a while he points his gun at us and repeats the threat. If the shepherds dare to cross the line even by an inch, he’ll arrest them. He wants them to know this. It should be crystal clear. But the goats, endowed, one supposes, with the less than lucid consciousness of a goat, have a way of spilling over the hills and crossing the invisible line. On second thought, maybe their awareness is more lucid than the lieutenant’s. It’s the shepherds’ kids who are sent to fetch them, and if you say to the lieutenant—“Look, they’re six years old, stop pointing your gun at them, stop threatening them”—he gets riled. ‘Abed, however, who’s already been through whatever hells the army has to offer, is enraged. “Look at this,” he says to me. “Have you ever seen anything like it? A little boy, a bunch of hungry goats, and six soldiers with their big guns aimed at them. It’s crazy.” I couldn’t agree more. I tell him: the court will decide, and it will decide in our favor. We can’t settle it here on the ground.

20170722-IMG_0021-EditlvlcrvAhmad in Umm al-Amad,  July, 2017.  photograph: Margaret Olin

I think that only the surreal feels really real. Late winter morning, the sun on our skin. There’s an enormous, heavy, black sheep, probably pregnant, lumbering across the wadi floor. The kids are running up and down the rocks in the wake of the incorrigible goats. One of the shepherds has decided that this is the perfect moment to make tea. He lights a fire and puts the old, soot-soiled kettle on the burning twigs. Soon Wala, impish, insouciant, brings each of us of a glass of tea. The soldiers huddle together, making evil plans. The Matak, of course, never turns up. Ahmad, furious, yells at the lieutenant: “You think you’re some big man, but you’re no more than a common criminal.” The lieutenant probably can’t understand.

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Photograph: David Shulman

 

Maybe, it occurs to me, he might be amenable to some suggestion that would allow him to climb down off the tree. “Look,” I say to him, “they’re almost finished with today’s grazing. They’ve already moved outside the ‘forbidden’ ground. Give them another 10 or 15 minutes, they’ll wind up and go home. Stop threatening them, it makes everything worse and it scares the kids.” Something like that. The lieutenant looks at me with scorn. “No.”

Wala gathers up the empty tea glasses, balancing them against her body in a delicious, gravity-defying system that only she could invent. These people are poor; every glass counts. She will bring them home over the high hill. How many times have I climbed this hill? But today is worse. I figure my ancestors must have been driven from their homes—in Spain, in the Rhineland, God knows where else—and here it is again, what they must have known, something black inside me, the blackness of rage, of hate, though hate is rare for me in south Hebron, over the years it’s been displaced by something else that I can’t name, something better than hate. And there is the weariness; do we have to start all over? We’ll go back to the courts, and the courts will reaffirm the earlier ruling, and the wadi will be open again, and for a while the sheep will graze there until we have to do it all once more, and the pitiful lieutenant might even grow up some day and discover he is a person with a mind and a body of his own, I know it can happen, maybe after the Occupation ends. Maybe even before.

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Guy in Umm al-Amad, July, 2017. photograph: Margaret Olin

On the way to Umm al-Khair we stop at Ma‘in and climb the hill to where the owners were digging shallow pits for planting baby olive trees, a few days back. The settlers of Avigail, across the highway, must have summoned the soldiers. This time they arrested ten Palestinians, accusing them of digging in an “archaeological site.” There is no square meter in Palestine-Israel that is not an archaeological site. A new and ominous pretext, potentially useful for stealing land. They kept their prisoners all day and released them in the evening. This story, like Umm al-Amad’s, isn’t over yet.

One thing I can say. Things are getting worse.

20170722-IMG_9967atext David Shulman © 2017           *you may see more of Um al-Amad in 2014 here

 

 

A lovely day in South Hebron: first story

7 June, 2014, Umm al Amad

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watching a shepherd tend his flock

 

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It is a pleasure to be here . . .

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and were we not here, there would be no grazing

 

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because of these houses.

 

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To keep their land, Palestinian shepherds must graze their sheep close to the settlement.

Otherwise, the land is abandoned and free for the taking.

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But the shepherd refuses to move closer.

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He has already moved his flock close enough to see the settlement,

far closer than when the Ta’ayush volunteers first came two years ago.

 

 

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He cannot be persuaded to advance further this week.

 

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All photographs and texts © 2014 Margaret Olin.